Garden catalogs are more than pages and pages of pretty pictures for casual enjoyment. They inspire you to improve or reinvent your yard. They describe each plant down to the number of petals on the flowers or how the leaves are arranged on stems.
They also introduce the latest and greatest in plant development, whether it's a new coneflower color or a bigger, better tomato.
For 2012, Burpee's catalog introduces its Boost Collection of six nutrient-rich vegetables designed for home gardens. All were naturally bred by traditional hybridization, with no genetically modified organisms, or unwanted GMOs, according to a Burpee spokeswoman.
Burpee claims that its Boost veggies provide higher levels of disease-fighting antioxidants. For example, a half cup of Cherry Punch tomatoes delivers 90 percent of the recommended daily dose of Vitamin C, and Sweet Heat peppers produce 65 percent more Vitamin C than the average garden pepper.
Here are five more catalogs, all free, that are worth getting because they offer a wide selection of growing material for USDA plant-hardiness zones 3 to 10 (Kentucky is in updated zones 6a, 6b and 7a) and they do double duty as educational material:
Brent and Becky's Bulbs
Always known for spectacular spring- and summer-flowering bulbs, Brent and Becky Heath have added a few perennials to their summer catalog. This year, Becky recommends a Veronica called Royal Candles, with royal blue spikes that look showy in the full-sun summer border; it grows 10 to 15 inches tall and is cold-hardy in zones 4 to 9.
The catalog also includes a couple new Colocasias, or elephant ears, that add a touch of the tropics to your warm-weather gardens no matter where you live. They grow in the ground or look stunning in large pots on a patio or porch. One of the new ones is Bikini-Tini, which has bluish-gray leaves with dark purple veins and leaves that face upward and fill with water when it rains; they stand on sturdy stems in full sun or partial shade and are rated cold-hardy to Zone 6.
To get the free print catalog, go to Brentandbeckysbulbs.com or call 1-877-661-2852.
High Country Gardens
Brakelights red yucca, a plant known to be a hummingbird magnet, is a new introduction for this company, which specializes in perennials, ornamental grasses and shrubs that require little water. Cold hardy in zones 5-10, the yucca produces narrow strips of foliage with dark-green, grassy, non-spiny leaves that are compact and evergreen. Its nectar-rich flowers keep hummers interested all summer.
High Country Gardens, in Santa Fe, N.M., also unveils its Harvest Booster Perennial Collection, with small and medium-size flowering perennials that, when planted into and around vegetable gardens and potted vegetables, attract bees for pollination. The 12-plant selection is cold-hardy in zones 5 to 9 and includes Pink Lace beebalm, Select Blue catmint, Blue Fortune agastache, purple coneflower, Little Lemon goldenrod and Rotkugel oregano.
To get the free print catalog, go to Highcountrygardens.com or call 1-800-925-9387.
The cover of Logee's new catalog showcases what it does best: offer rare and hard-to-find plants, such as the container-grown Fukushu kumquat on its cover. Inside, the catalog profiles 68 new plants, including staghorn fern on volcanic rock; Bienvenue hibiscus, with 6-inch, pink-swirl blooms; variegated Chinese violet, with light pink-lavender blooms; and orange lipstick plant.
Located in Connecticut, Logee's boasts 120 years of offering tropical and hardy fruiting plants, and an assortment of fragrant and tropical plants for containers. The company's catalog includes hardy jasmine, red passion flowers, mandevilla, bamboo and angel's trumpet. Some of its oddities include chenille plant, with furry-red catkins; lollipop flower, with spires of yellow rocket-shaped lollipops; and Chinese perfume plant, with scented yellow blooms that you can enjoy several times a year.
When you order, you get 2½ - or 4-inch potted plants that can go in containers or in the ground. To get the free print catalog, go to Logees.com or call 1-888-330-8038.
Niche Gardens is a retail and mail-order nursery in Chapel Hill, N.C., that has found its niche in nursery- propagated wildflowers and native perennials, ornamental grasses, and unusual trees and shrubs. The nursery's catalog is on the plain side, with mostly listings of tried-and-true specimens including wild columbine, cold hardy in zones 3 to 8; artemisia, cold hardy in zones 3 to 10; and asters for zones 4 to 8. New plant offerings include two dwarf conifers — Chamaecyparis Snow and Nana Gracilis — that are small enough for almost any garden and add a touch of living art as they grow.
To get the free print catalog, go to Nichegardens.com or call (919) 967-0078.
Nearly everyone enjoys fresh, juicy, home-grown tomatoes for summertime sandwiches and salads, and this catalog is all about tomatoes. New varieties for 2012 include Green Doctors, with cherry-size green fruit, and cherry cascade hybrid, with cascading clusters of red cherry tomatoes — both perfect for popping into your mouth or on top of salads. In all, there are 15 new tomatoes, one All-America Selections new pepper, and a rare new eggplant called Pot Black.
You have to be a seed-starting aficionado because all the tomatoes and all the other veggies are offered by seed only. The back of the catalog is devoted to seed-starting equipment and supplies, including jiffy pot trays, starting mix, soil warmers and tomato pens, made of heavy galvanized wire that fold flat for easy storing and last for many years.
To get the free print catalog, go to Tomatogrowers.com or call 1-888-478-7333.