Originally created 01/23/04

Finding some plants is detective work



Seed and nursery catalogs already are enticing us with luscious descriptions of juicy tomatoes and richly colored roses. With so much offered, youd think that any plant you could possibly want would turn up in at least one of these catalogs. Not so.

You have to do a bit of sleuthing if you want to grow something offbeat - seeds of the rare but delectable Belgian Giant tomato, for example. Tree peonies also are rare or nonexistent in most catalogs, so you would have to search especially hard to find a special variety of tree peony, such as the salmon red Yachiyo Tsubaki. These plants are available; you just have to find out where.

If you cant find what you want in any of your catalogs or at a local nursery, the next place to turn is a book. One of the many useful lists in Barbara Bartons "Gardening by Mail" is that of suppliers for specific categories of plants. The book has a category for both "Tree Peony" and for "Heirloom Tomatoes." Listings in this book reflect a plant's popularity. Tomatoes are so popular that heirloom and hybrid tomatoes each get separate headings. But if you were delving for a source for an unusual vegetable, such as chufa, you would have to look under the general heading "Vegetables," and then contact all the companies listed.

Then again, none of the companies listed under "Vegetables" might offer chufa. Then turn to books dealing with narrower categories of plants, books such as "Cornucopia," "A Source Book of Edible Plants," The Garden Seed Inventory," "Taylor's Guide to Specialty Nurseries" and "The Gardener's Companion."

Deepen your quest with books written specifically about the plant of interest. Such books often have appendices listing sources for the plants. So if you wanted to grow purple prairie clover, a meadow wildflower, you might find a source for it in Laura Martins "Wildflower Meadow Book."

If you still can't find your plant, dont despair. Many books also have society information, names and addresses of organizations devoted to narrow groups of plants. A society could put you in contact with a fellow enthusiast who could then send you seeds or cuttings.

If all these leads fail, seek professional help. Turn to the agriculture library of some university or botanical garden. There, a librarian might direct you to a more detailed source listing, or perhaps to a specialist who has devoted his or her life to studying your sought-after plant.