Lowenfels: Which gardening catalogs are best for Southcentral residents?

Jeff Lowenfels
Rob Wells grows and sells dahlias and dahlia tubers from his Palmer-area farm. One of the many varieties of dahlias Wells grows is the jitterbug dahlia, photographed in one of his greenhouses on Wednesday, August 28, 2013.
Bob Hallinen

Ah, the new year and catalogs are the order of business for gardeners across the land. This is more of an educational task for gardeners than it is a buying opportunity. You can learn a lot flipping through a catalog, be it a hard copy or on the Web.

Happily, we start this week with something local. Every reader should at least take a look at the 2014 Alaska Grown Dahlia catalog from The Persistent Farmer (thepersistentfarmer.com). These folks are located in the Matanuska Valley and the dahlia tubers they sell are from the very same plant that produces those wonderful cut dahlias at the Anchorage Farmers Market every summer.

You may not have been aware that you can buy local dahlia tubers, but this is The Persistent Farmer's fourth year selling them. Rob Wells (and, I suspect, his family) have created a gem of a website and their dahlias are simply the only ones anyone, especially a gardener here in Southcentral, would need to buy.

If you haven't seen these dahlias at the Farmers Market, then look at the pictures on this website. (Look at them anyway! I suspect several will be appropriated for desktop use). The practiced eye will notice that there are flower varieties offered here that you won't find many other places, and certainly not any that would ship to Alaska. It is expensive to buy heavy tubers that must be sent through the mail if you live far away from the sources, as we all do.

For the uninitiated, dahlias are very easy to grow in Southcentral, but tubers need to be started about eight weeks before transplanting outside. These produce the most showy outdoor flowers available for the work involved (which is almost none). Normally, orders from Outside are difficult to count on because they freeze or rot during the long transit here. When you buy from The Persistent Farmer, you are most assuredly getting genuine, Southcentral-grown stock, not something that comes from Outside and is untested in our unique climate. Novice or not, check this one out and take advantage of its location.

Next, a kind reader sent in a second local catalog source, Foundroot (foundroot.com), based in Palmer. This seems to be a very new catalog, a year old, that offers only open pollinated seed. That's great, because it means you can save the seed from each year's harvest. (As they note, one of their goals is to put themselves out of business). Just as good, Foundroot is dedicated to the Northern gardener, which means what they sell will grow here. What a joy to have yet another catalog that won't ask if you are in the United States and offers vegetable seeds on which you can rely.

Not quite as local, but a catalog I missed last week, Raintree Nursery (raintreenursery.com) has a good reputation for working with Alaskan fruit gardeners when they place orders. This is a catalog of fruit trees and fruit shrubs. As most know, you can't just plunk down a fruit tree because you want pears. You have to plant the right stock here in Southcentral.

In any case, the owner of Raintree has a list somewhere that I need to get a hold of that shows what Alaskan customers have purchased and successfully grown. They can help you. Move through the catalog and you will see lots of tempting stock. If nothing else, this is a joy to experience in the middle of one of our winters.

This is another nursery that isn't really local, but Plant Delights Nursery way down in North Carolina has a reputation for paying attention to Alaska customers (plantdelights.com). Not only is this a good source for certain plants, friend and owner Tony Avent has a real eye for unusual plants and there are some pretty hardy ones offered.

In any case, this is what a garden catalog, web or hard copy, is supposed to be like. It is entertaining and fun to read, chock-full of information and replete with terrific pictures -- and offers great fare. Have fun.

Jeff's garden catalog

-- Alaska recycles Christmas trees: 7,000 trees were chipped up last year. Deposit your naked, clean tree at the designated Carrs lots. Clean trees only, please. This is a public service. Don't abuse it.

-- Alaska Botanical Garden: Now is the time to join and get the benefits (www.alaskabg.org).

-- Poinsettias: Once they drop their leaves, let them rest (or toss them out). Keep the pots, I always say.

-- Check spring-flowering bulbs: If you are forcing, check your bulbs to make sure they are not drying out. If you have a place that has both the cool temperature and light, expose them to it now. You can start bringing them out in a few weeks.


Jeff Lowenfels