Why mail order annuals? I  get surprised looks when asked – usually during Garden Walk – about interesting plants I have that came in that way.

But for years, though I’ve never attempted seeds (and don’t plan to), I’ve always been open to looking online for plants that might not be available locally.

It’s my late winter security blanket. Sure, there will be plenty of nursery and garden center offerings in May when it’s time to set up the container array, but I also have my shipments. And my preorder from the local botanical gardens benefit sale. 

There are highly gratifying pros and deeply disappointing cons that accompany this strategy. 

First the bad news:

  • No matter how many sweet pea seedings I order, they will never ever ever do anything. I have to Just. Stop.
  • Some heirloom cottage garden flowers look way, way better on paper than they perform in the garden. I guess the pictures just show the tops of about 100 of them in a tight group. In a container though, they’re weedy (not in a good way) and in need of continual deadheading. I’m looking at you, Didiscus caeruleus (blue lace flower) and Orlaya ‘White Lace.’ Calling all you meadow growers for these.
  • Beware of colors like Creme Brulee. Stick to the dessert on this one. Light brown phlox is just not attractive.

But the good news:

  • I can have cosmos without using seeds – which never work well in my overcrowded beds.
  • I can also have all the heliotrope, not just the one kind they sell in nurseries. Same with tall nicotiana. 
  • It’s a zinnia wonderland out there.
  • I can have petunias with scent. Scent is still a thing in mail order land.
  • I can start a local trend. Strobilanthes (Persian Shield) was nowhere to be found when i first ordered it 22 years ago. A season or two after that first time I had it for Garden Walk, it was for sale everywhere. I guess local vendors got tired of people asking for it. 

On a cold day in February, it is satisfying to browse through the email confirmations, which are full of pictures of what I fondly imagine my container garden will look like in June. 

It won’t, but the winter dreams make up for a (somewhat) diminished summer reality.

A few sources: Select Seeds (not just seeds, many plants and my main source), Annie’s Annuals, White Flower Farms  (have not ordered in a while)