The bankruptcy of Park Seed and Wayside has got me thinking. Like every other gardener of my generation, my two great inspirations as a beginner were Michael Pollan's Second Nature, and Cassandra Danz's Mrs. Greenthumbs: How I Turned a
Boring Yard into a Glorious Garden and How You Can, Too. Despite their differences in style, both Pollan and Danz were smart, funny, vivid writers…and not afraid to think critically about the dominant catalogs of that medieval pre-Internet moment, Wayside and White Flower Farm. If you needed something interesting beyond the local nursery, well, these were the companies that purported to have you covered.
So, as an eager student of a new culture, I ordered stuff from the Big Glossies. Certain things, like bare-root roses, were fine. But other things–tiny, super-expensive perennials that instantly bit the dust–quickly made me rethink how I was going to spend my gardening dollar.
Today, I order seed for the vegetable garden profligately from catalogs. Sometimes, I even take a flier on a cheap, bareroot ornamental shrub from the Fedco Trees catalog. Otherwise, my ornamental catalog purchases tend to be limited to bulbs, which, unlike small perennials, ship well.
And for me, that means Brent & Becky's Bulbs.
In certain ways, I find Brent & Becky's Bulbs a relatively cold and clueless merchant. I spend at least $500 a year with them. Yet I have to beg them to send me a paper catalog. They never do unless I call up and request it, even though I check off all the boxes saying, yes I would still like to see their offerings on paper. (I just got a big order from them. They did include a fall catalog in the box. Yeah!)
There's never any acknowledgment, either, that I am a loyal and free-spending customer, of the kind that would be most meaningful to me…maybe five free crocuses or a complimentary lily once in a while. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, on the other hand, where I'm a relatively new and less spendthrift customer, always throws in an extra package of something interesting.
And there is certainly no acknowledgment that we write about Brent & Becky's constantly here. Nary a comment on a blog post. I don't particularly need the love. I just find it interesting that they haven't noticed that we ARE talking about them.
Never mind. I remain a loyal customer because Brent & Becky's does the most important thing right: They ship absolutely gorgeous bulbs and tubers that are head and shoulders above the offerings of anyone else.
Last year, wanting more of a selection, I ordered dahlias from a dahlia specialist. What a disappointment! Each one was barely one stingy little tuber with one stingy little eye. They never grew very well over the summer–and rotted in storage this winter. Too small to survive!
This year, I ordered lots of dahlias, short front-of-the border types, from Brent & Becky's. Every dahlia they sent was a CLUMP of tubers, at least five per plant. They were so big, I could have divided each one and still had a respectable-sized plant.
Brent & Becky's lily bulbs stand out just as much in a crowded field. They are much bigger and fresher than anybody else's! Some of my Brent & Becky's lilies, after a few years in my soil, are turning into trees.
Wayside and White Flower Farm belong to another moment, way before Dave's Garden Watchdog turned buyer beware into seller beware, possibly a more superficial moment in gardening, when a thick juicy well-photographed catalog could make gardeners forget their heads and spend way too much on a mirage.
Brent & Becky's? They belong to an era when you cannot survive if you are not the real deal. They are the real deal, so they get my money every year. If they ever go the way of Park Seed, I will be very sad.