Plant catalogs

How to Read Plant Catalogs

20170209A.jpgI confess to being a total plant catalog nut… and I’m happily inundated by them right now. Some still come by mail, but more and more arrive via the internet. And it’s always a pleasure to see what they have to offer.

But if you want to make good plant choices, you have to be able to understand plant catalogs. You see, gardening catalogues are written in “Cataloguese”, an obscure language that vaguely resembles English, except that all words have a slightly different meaning than the one you’d expect. Fortunately, Cataloguese is fairly easy to learn. Here are the basics:

Short English-Cataloguese Lexicon

Biennial: A plant so weak we didn’t dare call it a perennial.

Can’t be shipped to California: It’s a weed.

Collector’s item: It’s so weird that only a plant nerd would want to grow it.

Days to harvest: 78 days. The plants ripen 78 days after transplanting… in Zimbabwe. In your climate, add 20 to 30 days.

Deer resistant: Groundhogs love it!

Disease resistant: The plant is resistant to diseases, but will die of something else.

Dwarf: So short you can barely see it.

Early blooming: It starts two days before the first fall frost.

Easy to grow: It’s a weed.

Edible flower: If you eat it with a lot of ketchup, you might not throw up.

Ethereal beauty: You’ll never notice it.

Exclusive: Nobody else wants to sell it.

Fast-growing: It’s is a weed.

First-year flowering: We got one to bloom the first year, but betcha you can’t!

Free! Nobody wanted to pay for this plant, so we’re giving it away.

Gracefully arching stems: They flop under the first rain.

Height: 2 feet: The height varies between 3 inches and 15 feet, with an average of 2 feet.

Heritage vegetable: Your grandparents wouldn’t eat it either.

Ideal for mass plantings: You need at least 400 to create any impact.

Improved: We couldn’t sell any last year, so we’re relaunching it under a new name.

Incredibly hardy: We too would be surprised if it survived the winter.

Irregularly variegated: The foliage is entirely green.

Less invasive: It only invades one bed at a time.

Mildew resistant: It will last one week longer before the leaves turn white and die.

Mixed Seed: We put all the colors that don’t sell in the seed pack.

Native Plant: A weed already growing in your own backyard.

New! Our competitors have been selling it for 15 years and we finally decided to offer it.

Night-scented: The flowers look dead in daylight.

Old-fashioned charm: Hard to believe, but in the twelfth century people thought this plant was beautiful.

Organic seed: No need to wait for diseases to find this plant, the spores are already included.

Original: Extremely ugly.

Ornamental foliage: The flowers are so ugly that, in comparison, the leaves don’t seem so bad.

Our Choice: Maybe if we promote it, someone will buy it.

Penetrating perfume: It blows the sinuses wide open.

Popular: We’ve had this loser in the catalog for 37 years now and can’t believe people are still buying it!

Prefers dry soil: If it rains even once during the summer, the plant turns to mush.

Prefers moist soil: You have to water it 24 hours a day.

Prolonged bloom: Faded flowers remain on the stem weeks after they die.

Reblooming: If you cut off every single faded flower, you might get an extra bloom or two.

Self-sowing: Invasive.

Small flowered: Arm yourself with a good magnifying glass if you want to see them.

Subtle fragrance: If you stick nose in the bloom, you might be able to smell something.

Tender perennial: 21st century term for annual.

Tolerates all soils: You will never be able to pull it out.

Unique taste: Be ready to spit it out, you don’t want this to reach your digestive system.

Zone 5: Will survive in zone 5 if you bring it indoors for the winter.


Enjoy leafing through your plant and seed catalogs!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “How to Read Plant Catalogs

  1. Reblogged this on Sustainable Food for the Globe and commented:
    Really Cool Articles from the Laid Back Gardener. British humor and wit!

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