Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Gardening wish books bring dreams of summer

Nancy Umbaugh, an avid gardener from Parks Township, can't wait to add beautiful new plants to her garden every spring. And until then, she can enjoy perusing the brightly colored catalogs arriving in her mail.

Umbaugh, 73, intently reads about the flowers and fruits, looks at the pictures in the catalogs, and fantasizes about where she will plant them in her yard. She unwinds at the end of the day with the catalogs, and practically reads them as a bedtime story.

"I just received three yesterday. I get tons of them," she says. She gets catalogs from companies including Spring Hill Nursery and Breck's. "I look at every one. ... It is relaxing. It is a wish book.

"When it's snowy like this, you get kind of depressed, and looking at those catalogs makes you cheer up," she says. "You think of spring, and that this is going to be over soon. I can't wait to see those little bulbs peeking out."

This time of year, spring gardening catalogs are packing people's mailboxes -- just like fall catalogs come in the late summer. The glossy, colorful, magazine-like catalogs are bursting with a kaleidoscope of flowers and other plants, along with the trees or bushes that produce yummy-looking fruits, like blueberry, cherry and apple trees. Many of the catalogs feature vegetable seeds, with tempting pictures showing perfect results from planting the seeds.

You can't actually plant anything yet, but, perhaps, that makes the catalogs all the more appealing during the cold and dreary winter months. Many gardening enthusiasts are glued to their pretty, picturesque catalogs, while they fantasize about what they will plant in a few months, and where in their garden the plants will fit.

"The colorful pictures really make us think about the warm days of summer, when we had our gardens full of flowers," says Margie Radebaugh. She is the director of horticulture and education for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland. "This time of year, anything is possible. We can plant what we want ... and everything will look like it does in the catalog.

"You see these perfect flowers, and it's so powerful," Radebaugh says. "It's such a contrast to the monochromatic landscape we have this time of year. I think it reminds us of the past summer, and that it's coming again."

Dan Golden, 64, of Ligonier, used to fish discarded gardening catalogs out of office trashcans, when cleaning at work. In the winter, the lifelong avid gardener likes to check out the marigold seeds, Thai hot peppers, tomatoes and more.

"I just keep looking through them, and think, where's my summer headed, and where's my spring headed?" Golden says.

Patricia Hughes, 69, of Allegheny Township, devours her catalogs, including the ones from Jung Seeds & Plants.

"I love it when they come, and I go from cover to cover," Hughes says. "I fantasize about what I'm going to order."

She usually gets one or two plants a year that she doesn't already have, along with products for wild birds.

"They're very, very neat to look at," Hughes says of the catalogs.

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