A different look at catalogs

Chances are if you garden you get garden-related catalogs in the mail. This is a result of either buying seeds or plants via mail-order (or Internet), subscribing to a gardening magazine of some sort, living in a house whose previous owners gardened, or just being "lucky". I don't know if the feeling is universal, but I really enjoy getting these catalogs, especially since many of them come during the coldest, snowiest, "when can I start gardening again" days of winter.

Seed company catalogs are the most prevalent, but there are also many nurseries producing plant catalogs, as well as garden supply and tool catalogs -- this post is not about what's in the catalogs though. This post is about the catalogs themselves.


Although I do enjoy getting these catalogs, and love to see them show up in my mailbox every other day or so throughout the winter, I do have one problem with them: I get too many of them.

Let's take a closer look at this.

Not really what I meant by "closer look"

If I had a much larger yard and an area for a huge vegetable garden, I might be able to order seeds from four or five different companies. Do I really need to get catalogs from a dozen or more different companies? Well, no, but I appreciate having the choice. If I got a single catalog from every gardening company in the country that would be a lot of catalogs, but I'd probably be quite happy. I love choice, and not every company carries the same inventory. No, the number of different catalogs I receive is not the problem.

Some are large and some are small.

The problem is that I get multiple catalogs from most companies. I'm not talking about a Spring catalog and then a Fall catalog either. That's common, and somewhat acceptable. Some companies offer different plants or seeds in the fall than they do in the spring, so another catalog makes some sense. Even if it's the identical catalog with a new cover on it -- I can see how this could be useful to busy gardeners (are there any other kind?) who don't want to hang onto a catalog through the summer. So two catalogs sent four months or more apart are reasonable.

Less reasonable but still somewhat acceptable is two nearly identical catalogs sent during the winter, as was the case last year with Jung:

Maybe the first catalog was misplaced, or you want to give one to a friend, or somebody recycled it before you could really look through it. I can sort of understand two catalogs.

Three is over the line though. There's no reason I need three identical catalogs for spring ordering (especially since if I place an order for something large enough I'll probably get another catalog in the box). What about a monthly catalog? That's what I get with A.M. Leonard:

I suppose if I were a large full-time nursery with a staff I might need a catalog every month. These just pile up though (I suspect I recycled the missing months already) and are a waste of  money for both the company and the Postal Service.

A quick word about the paper used. Some of these catalogs are printed on either recycled or "gentle" paper, similar to newsprint:

Most of them though are printed on glossy "magazine" type pages.

It's hard to get a photo of "shine" that actually looks like something.

Although magazines are as easily recycled these days as newsprint is, I believe that glossy pages require more processing and/or harsher chemicals to be used than the dull newsprint pages.  (I could be wrong about this so if anybody knows more about modern printing processes, please let me know!) It doesn't seem right for a company that produces living, growing products.

Looking at quantities again, if three identical catalogs a year are too many, four and above certainly are:

I love High Country Gardens, but it seems I'm getting one of their catalogs every month -- really unnecessary! (I know this isn't the full set from last year, as several of them went right into the recycling.) Yes the cover is different on every one, but the interior is identical.

(Edit: Ava from High Country Gardens posted a comment saying that it's possible to change your mailing preferences through their website so you get only 1 catalog per season.)

Thompson & Morgan have a really thick catalog with a square glued binding (as opposed to a stapled binding like most thinner catalogs). That didn't stop them from sending me at least 4 catalogs last spring:

The winner in last year's catalog "competition" has got to be Miller Nurseries though:

I'm certain I didn't save every catalog either, so I wonder what the total number I received was? It's not like I'm a regular customer of theirs either. I purchased three fruit trees from them in one order a couple of years ago -- which I was very happy with -- but haven't ordered since. Maybe they have a "he's not ordering? Send another catalog!" philosophy there.

I've already received two catalogs from them for 2011, and it's only early February!

I don't know about you, but when I see a company sending me a seemingly unending stream of catalogs I think one of two things: 1) This company is hurting for sales and will do whatever it can to get more people buying or 2) This company is making way too much money and doesn't mind watching their $ go straight into recycling bins. Probably not the marketing message they want to be delivering.

I understand the importance of marketing this way, but there has to be a better way. If you really need to send me something every month, why not make it 4 pages long with a note to "visit our website for more information"? I'm going to be placing any order through your website anyway.

Please let me know your own experiences with gardening catalogs in the comments. I'd also like to hear your thoughts and suggestions on how this situation could be improved.

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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (February 7, 2011 at 10:06 AM)  

Wow, you are getting way more catalogs than I do! I get maybe 10 a year, from all companies combined.

anne  – (February 7, 2011 at 11:03 AM)  

Oh my do you get catalogs! I just get White Flower Farm since I order my bulbs from them and an occasional seed catalog (maybe). I can answer your question on ink and paper though! (I used to be a print production manager at an ad agency so I know some technical info). Ink is ink and doesn't affect quality - if you want to be "green" you can use soy based inks - it's the paper and the line screen that make the difference. The same ink will "sit" on nice glossy stock but will sink into newsprint, uncoated stock more and look dull. Line screen is the amount of dots per inch so the finer the line screen, the sharper the picture. You can see the dots in your "closer look" photo above. I guess it's like pixels if you want to understand it somewhat better.

Alan  – (February 7, 2011 at 1:20 PM)  

Anne -- thanks for the info on the inks. Know anything about the paper-making process? Is glossy paper created using more chemicals, more energy, etc.?
For those who aren't getting as many catalogs, do you subscribe to any gardening magazines? Have you ever purchased seeds by mail/Internet?

anne  – (February 7, 2011 at 2:34 PM)  

here's a website that explains the paper-making process for coated stocks - it's a clay finish with extra energy depending on the glossiness of the paper. You will start looking at paper differently after learning a little about it!


Years ago I bought seeds from Burpee and got catalogs for awhile but then it stopped because I started buying locally instead. I enjoy gardening magazines and subscribe to one (Gardengate) and get all the others from the library.

Anonymous –   – (February 7, 2011 at 8:49 PM)  

Hi Alan, Ava Salman here from High Country Gardens. Feel free to manage your mailings with us. You can choose to get one catalog per season. http://www.highcountrygardens.com/catalogpreferences

Alan  – (February 7, 2011 at 8:59 PM)  

Ava -- thanks for pointing this out! I just changed my settings. I wonder if other nurseries are as flexible?

JiffyJ  – (February 8, 2011 at 1:10 PM)  

I am still fairly new, and most of my seeds/plants have come from local family that has specific strains that do well here. Just recently, I have started looking for "less safe" plants, but since last fall, I have only gotten 1 Territorial and 2 Burpee catalogs.

Christine @ the Gardening Blog  – (July 27, 2011 at 4:59 PM)  

Here in South Africa? I get zilch! nudda, not a one. But I do get electronic mailers from a few, only because I subscribed. I'd like to get at least one of these.

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