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The Aesthetics of Seed Catalogs

This post originally was published on Goshen Commons on


Seed catalogs are arriving in my mailbox almost daily now. Some go directly into the recycling. Some go into the basket of magazines and catalogs near the door for perusal at a later time. Some come into the house with me for immediate consideration.oakley_0209a

What differentiates these catalogs is not the content (though I do tend to favor organic and heirloom seeds over the conventional variety). What differentiates these catalogs is their aesthetics.

First there is the size. Seed catalogs come in all sorts of sizes. The catalogs that are in large tabloid sizing go immediately into the recycling. That size is just too cumbersome. They are hard to hold. I can’t easily sit in bed or in a comfy chair and pore over each page. The bottom crinkles on my lap and gets creases in weird places unless I hold the catalog higher, but then my arms get tired. It is just not worth the bother. So into the recycling they go.

The other sizes are much more manageable. There is the traditional magazine size, which is reasonable to handle. Then there is a smaller size – a bit taller than a paperback, but not much wider. All these catalogs deserve a look.

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Once I have determined that a catalog is worth looking at, I open it. Now comes the next differentiating criterion: the layout of the interior pages. Some catalogs are crammed full of little pictures of plants on each page. Accompanying the barrage of little pictures is the tiny font that describes the seeds. When I look at such pages there is an overload of information. I have to strain to read the type. I get agitated. I cannot relax and enjoy the experience of savoring each page. Into the recycling they go.

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Often associated with the amount of information on each page is the amount of color on each page. Sometimes the colors are much too bright. Sometimes there are just too many colors crammed together on a single page. I much prefer more muted colors and a more coherent color scheme. So if the colors in a catalog disturb me, into the recycling it goes.

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Some catalogs try to catch your attention by highlighting certain seeds as award winners or the catalog “choice.” All those extra icons and symbols make the pages look messy. I particularly dislike those catalogs that are alarmist in nature and pronounce that this will be your “last chance” to purchase some seed variety. Really? It will be my last chance ever? Are those seeds going extinct? Into the recycling these catalogs go.

So now I have pared down my selection of catalogs: they are of a reasonable size, and they have a reasonable number of selections of seeds on each page and a soothing color scheme. Now come some finer distinctions.

Catalogs are printed on different types of paper. Most of them are printed on glossy magazine paper. Some are printed on rough, grayish newsprint paper. I must say that I do prefer either white paper or glossy paper, though I feel that I should like the newsprint best. (Is newsprint more biodegradable?) Though I have a preference for the type of paper, I don’t dismiss any catalog simply on that basis.

oakley_0209foakley_0209eSome catalogs have text boxes that discuss planting tips and germination times in addition to the description of the seeds that they sell. This is all helpful information. My estimation of those catalogs rises.

So, you may be wondering by now what is my favorite catalog. I am not sure that I can answer that. There are several catalogs that I enjoy perusing and from which I purchase seeds.

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However, if I were to select a catalog for purely aesthetic reasons, there is one catalog that stands out above the rest.This catalog is magazine sized, with just a few seed selections on each page. The color scheme is very muted. In fact, many of the pages are just charcoal print on white paper with dusty green headings. The paper is white but not glossy, heavier than regular laser-print paper, but not as heavy as cardstock. And there are no photos at all. Instead, there are drawings, some in color, some just in that dusty green color.

Even though this catalog is not packed with seed selections, it gives me the impression that the seeds that are offered have been carefully chosen. The presentation is beautiful. I’ve already started starring those seeds I am interested in getting. And I am sure that I will look at this catalog, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, over and over again.

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Nuts for Research

The Arbor Day Foundation Hazelnut Project collaborates with members to develop sustainable strains of hybrid hazelnut plants.

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I love hazelnuts. Since childhood, they have been one of my favorite nuts. So, of course, I wanted to plant some hazelnut bushes as part of my fruit and nut micro–orchard. Then I discovered that, not only could I get little starts from The Arbor Day Foundation, I could participate in their hazelnut research project at the same time.

The Arbor Day Foundation is involved in research toward developing strains of hybrid hazelnuts to be used for food, livestock feed, and bio–energy. Their goal is to breed high yielding hazelnuts that can be grown in a variety of settings, soils, and locations. For a donation of $20, anyone can become a member of The Hazelnut Project, get three hazelnut seedlings, receive periodic updates on the research project, and be a research participant by annually reporting how the hazelnut bushes are doing.

In 2012, I received my first three hazelnuts seedlings. My seedlings arrived in late May right at the start of that year’s summer drought. Sadly, my seedlings did not make it. This spring I received three replacement seedlings. I also planted three additional Arbor Day Foundation seedlings that I got from a friend. All six did well for a few weeks, growing and sprouting new leaves, but then, on some of the seedlings, the leaves began shriveling up and dying. Other seedlings looked like they had become a meal for the wild rabbits that live in my garden. Fortunately, and rather surprisingly, four of the six recovered and small leaves emerged from the tiny remaining stems. Once I saw these little leaves, I quickly put up some rabbit fencing around the tiny plants to mark them and protect them from the hungry rabbits. Over the course of the summer, I watched my little seedlings, watering them when they needed it, weeding and mulching around them. The seedlings are still very small, only a fews inches tall, and the leaves are starting to turn in preparation for winter’s dormancy. I do hope they make it through the winter. If not, I’m sure I will try again next spring.

A few days ago I received my annual survey to report on my seedlings’ progress. There were questions about the survival rate of the seedlings and about the nut production of any larger bushes from prior years. Since this is the first year for my little plants, I wrote about what I observed and what had occurred.

It’s fun to be able to participate in this research project to promote and develop food crops such as these hazelnuts. I love growing food crops and it is gratifying to also be able to contribute to a larger endeavor.

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