In case you haven't been noticing the trend over the past five years, printed seed catalogs are going the way of the dodo. The first wave of seed catalogs in late January used to be a harbinger of spring. No longer. Most catalogs are online and more and more are only online.
In fact, there has been an evolution within the online catalog revolution. The use of sophisticated programming has resulted in web pages that read like an old-fashioned catalog. Well, almost, anyhow.
Take our good friends at Nichols Nursery (nicholsnursery.com). They have made a smooth transition to an online catalog. You touch your cursor to a corner, and the page turns. You can go in either direction, of course, and if you choose, you can hear the exact sound paper pages make when they are turned in a catalog. Make the print bigger? Sure, and while you are at it, take some notes -- which will be kept and will open to the correct page when you go back to read them.
Nichols even has instructional videos (youtube.com/user/NicholsNursery?feature=mhee) on how to make the most of the online catalog.
There are lots of new things this year. I used to categorize Nichols's catalog as a "must have." Now, I guess, I will have to call it a "must see." Try it.
Over at our second "must" e-catolog, Territorial Seeds (territorialseed.com), you will find a newly designed site, complete with online specials. There are also videos to help you be a better gardener and an online garden planner.
Like Nichols, Territorial understands Alaska's climates and takes excellent care of Alaskans. Their seed selection section is and simple to use. You will notice that there is a free print catalog offered should you want one. I suggest you hold on to it. Someday your grandchildren won't believe they existed.
Johnny's Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com) has an updated site too, as you would expect. While they haven't reinvented the catalog as did Nichols, they have an interactive section that provides all manner of calculators and guides to help you, such as a succession planting calculator. They also have a great reference section with an extensive list of very detailed growing guides. All of this is in addition to their excellent, short-season seed offerings.
Terroir Seeds (underwoodgardens.com -- and, yes, the address really is underwood) is a great catalog of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds, of which I am a big fan. They will send you a hard copy catalog for $2, or you can download a PDF and read it on your computer or print it out. For those who don't do well with the small print in catalogs, all PDF readers allow you to print as large as you want.
Terroir offers an informative and frequent "eNewsletter." And, its site has a great section about heirlooms and what makes them so special.
Spend some time this week putting the name of your favorite catalog houses into your computer search engine. Finding them online might be the only way you will ever be able to see many of them from now on.
Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at teamingwithmicrobes.com or by calling 274-5297 during "The Garden Party" radio show from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays on KBYR AM-700.