Jeff Lowenfels: Tablets make Web catalogs worth browsing

Jeff Lowenfels

I can remember discussing the merits of Web catalogs when they first came out. There were all sorts of models, some good and others terrible. The question was whether they could overtake the popularity of print catalogs. Sure enough, as the years went on, Internet-based catalogs improved, but they still lacked the hands-on quality of a print version.

Then along came the iPad and other tablets and a new way of looking at webalogs. You can hold a tablet on your lap, and it has a fast enough response to be an almost perfect substitute for a print catalog. Toss in retina display and super photos, and some would say webalogs have surpassed their old fashioned ancestors in beauty as well as utility. You decide.

All I know is that I can pick up my iPad and flip through some pretty exotic fare, catalogs I would have never ordered via the mail. Take Kartuz Greenhouses (, for example. Here is a webalog of begonias and gesneriads as well as hoyas and passionflowers. Wow. For those with a greenhouse, this is a dream book. Heck, for those without one it is too.

As important, this webalog fulfills the educational criteria. I am a sucker for gesneriads and always on the lookout for achimenes and streptocarpus. And sinningia, especially miniature ones. There are lots of plants I never heard of, ready to grow under some lights and, in many instances, outdoors this summer right here in Alaska. Who knew. You can learn something during these dark winters.

Hmm. Been doing a lot of Thai and Chinese cooking lately and wondered if there was some catalog for growing the herbs used. There are several. I learned a lot from Flora Exotica ( Alpini galanga or Thai ginger is shown in four- and five-inch pots. Hey, I can grow that plant from the tubers purchased locally. Further review showed all sorts of stuff I have used but never knew from whence it came. Among other things, I didn't know that cinnamon makes a nice houseplant.

Garlic, of course, comes to mind. Last year I spent some time on the website of Boundary Garlic Farm ( This is a Canadian site and I learned a lot about growing as well as ordering garlic corms (in May or June). They are currently sold out but should have more stock soon. In the meantime, check out Thompson and Morgan ( and search for garlic.

Speaking of Thompson and Morgan, this is a perfect example of a tablet-able gardening webalog. It has a tremendous number of pictures, one of almost any annual or vegetable you would ever want to see. It's a great catalog with lots of information. You should be seeing their seed racks around town, so before you buy, check at local nurseries, as several carry T and M seeds.

I am a sucker for any catalog that sells bromeliads, in particular, tillandsia. These plants are often called "air plants," because they are found growing on rocks and hanging from trees. There are different sizes, they do well in a cool, Alaska room and they produce flowers of all sorts of shapes and vibrant colors. Fun to dream of a collection while browsing Guy Wrinkle Rare Exotics (

Sooner or later, most gardeners get around to looking at a few tomato catalogs. I stumbled upon Amishland Heirloom Seeds ( the other day while researching open pollinated seeds. They have pages of interesting heirloom varieties, which isn't uncommon by itself, but these are lumped in unusual categories. Red, pink/purple, striped/yellow/orange, other colors and, my favorite, Belarusian/Ukrainian/Russian. This webalog includes writing (many do not), and the writing is entertaining as well as educational. Someone spent a great deal of time putting this site together. It shows and it is well worth browsing for the verbiage alone. Who needs pictures, though there are plenty, when you have prose like this.

Jeff Lowenfels is co-author of "Teaming With Microbes" and author of "Teaming With Nutrients."

Jeff's Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Join. It is open, by the way, all year. Great for a bit of snowshoeing. It's never too early to register for spring conference.

Christmas tree recycling: It is over. Do not bring your trees in. You'll probably be recorded on camera.

Birds: Bird feeding is part of gardening. You want birds in your yard all year long.

Jeff Lowenfels