How Will My Garden Grow?

You name it, I’ve most likely bought it from a catalog or the Internet. Shoes, swimwear, storage units — not a problem. But one product category has long intimidated me: plants.

I know, I know. Plants and seeds have been catalog perennials. People who would never think of purchasing cashmere sweaters, say, or antique Chinese wedding baskets via catalog or the Web have been mailing checks to gardening catalogers for decades.

But I would guess that those same people actually know a hollyhock from a helleborus. I can distinguish a buttercup from a dandelion, but that’s about it.

Having had some success last year with flowers picked up late in the season at a chain retailer, I decided this year to do it right and actually plan my garden: select sun-loving plants for the sunny areas and shade-friendly ones for the front of the house, in colors of my choosing rather than whatever was left on the store shelves. What’s more, I was going to know the names of the plants I purchased.

So I gathered a half-dozen catalogs and hunkered down. If only I had approached college exams with as much dedication.

Then again, some of my college textbooks were easier to understand than these catalogs. So many symbols…and so few keys to them. The catalog I eventually ordered from (Spring Hill Nursery) had a minimum of three symbols below each product description — and usually four or five. But the first key to the symbols appeared on page 16…with a note to turn to the order form for the complete explanations. This detailed key wasn’t on page 1 of the six-page order form, but on page 3. And it wasn’t labeled “key to symbols” or anything so simple; instead the symbols were interspersed among a full page of text entitled “How to Select Plants for Your Garden.”

Though it wasn’t easy to find, this instructional copy was helpful, I must admit. So was the FAQ on the following page, which anticipated almost every question I had.

What this catalog — nor any others that I read — didn’t tell me, though, was which flowers are least appealing to bees. (I’m phobic.) The catalogs and Websites were more than happy to point out which plants attracted hummingbirds and butterflies and which repelled deer, which is swell, but if they could single out those that are less attractive to bees and wasps (and moles and skunks, for that matter), they’d be doing a real service to mankind.

The copy among the catalogs varied from obligatory (as if they copywriters assumed that the shoppers knew what they wanted) to, well, flowery. The catalog I bought from struck an ideal balance between romance and practicality. What’s more, many of its descriptions even indicated how long the plants would bloom.

After several days of comparing catalogs and hopping from Website to Website, I submitted my order. It still being wintery here in the Northeast, Spring Hill hasn’t shipped my order yet. When it does, I hope it includes the name and care instructions of each plant. Because for the life of me I can’t remember the names of what I ordered.

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