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Faked Photos Indicate an Unreliable Catalog

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A classic case: the tulip ’Bleu Aimable’ is far from being blue … but that doesn’t stop unscrupulous dealers from colorizing its photo to make it bluer!

What you see isn’t always what you get … at least, not when it comes to bulb catalogs. Most, of course, are strictly honest and give impeccable service and top quality, true-to-type bulbs, but there are a few shady dealers you have to watch out for. And some of them are quite aggressive in their sales pitches.

I don’t dare mention the names of the disappointing sources of bulbs for fear of being taken to court by their team of lawyers, but I can tell you, from long experience, how to tell an honest bulb supplier from a crook. And it’s as simple as looking at the photos in their catalog, be it printed or on line.

Honest, knowledgeable merchants use honest photos. What you see in their catalog is what you’ll actually get when you plant the bulbs. (I like that!) But merchants given to exaggeration and exploitation (or ones who have absolutely no knowledge about what they’re selling, which is no better) can’t seem to help but cheat. They always have their graphic designers “improve” the photos to give the bulb a more saleable color. That really makes the choice easy for me: when I see an obviously retouched photo, I know I’m dealing with a fraudster and look elsewhere.

How Can You Tell?

You’re not knowledgeable enough about bulbs to tell which photos are realistic and which have been falsified? Here are 3 easy examples that even a novice bulb gardener can use to tell a quality bulb catalog from a second-rate one.

  1. There are no blue tulips

120170819A EngThere simply are no blue tulips. They just don’t exist. If the tulip in a catalog looks blue, it’s because it has been retouched. See the photos above of the popular ‘Bleu Aimable’. The center of the flower is indeed blue, which is how it got its name, but the tepals are violet to purple, not blue at all.

  1. Pink Daffodils are Still Just Wishful Thinking

120170819B EngMuch progress has been made in bringing pink shades to the flowers of narcissus (also called daffodils or jonquils), but, to be brutally honest, a true, pure pink is still wishful thinking. All those “pink narcissus” you may see in catalogs may be very pretty and well worth growing, but they’re actually closer to apricot or peach. So if you see a truly pink narcissus in a catalog, you know you’re dealing with a disreputable dealer.

  1. ‘Pink Sunrise’ Muscari is Actually Closer to White

120170819C EngThe muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’ is the first pink muscari … but just barely. You’d have a hard time finding a pink more washed out than that. It’s sort of pink-ish for first day or two, then white as a ghost from then on. Such a disappointment! So, despite so many catalogs promoting it as the first pink muscari and my having quite a nice collection of muserais, I’m holding off on buying any pink ones for the moment, hoping some hybridizer somewhere will come up with the real thing. That doesn’t stop some merchants from “pinkifying” the plant’s photo, though. Shame on them!


So there you go: now you know how to distinguish between an honest bulb catalog and one that is trying to rip you off. Just check out the colors of the blue tulips, pink narcissus and pink muscaris!

9 comments on “Faked Photos Indicate an Unreliable Catalog

  1. That’s interesting as I have tulips which were supposed to be a darkish purple turned out green and scabious plants supposed to be blue that are white. Very disappointing as I can grow white from seed. Didn’t realise it was a common thing!

  2. Pingback: Rainbow Tomatoes: Yet Another Gardening Ripoff! – Laidback Gardener

  3. Daphne Stoltzfus

    There’s another way to tell if the photo has been re-touched, especially if the “creator” is lazy or unskilled. Look carefully at the grasses, stems, and ground surrounding the flowers. If the whole photo has been adjusted, often these parts of the photos are unnaturally colored. Take a look at the narcissus and muscari photos above to see what I mean – the backgrounds almost look like they’re dyed unnatural greens, and they have color casts.

    The tulip plant is trickier as it looks like the seller was sneaky enough to change the color on JUST the tulip. In cases like this, look carefully for “sharp” edges as this indicates a color change. The upper left part of the tulip shows you that. The color does not “match” the stem, also, and looks completely unnatural.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks for the precisions. I supposed I looked at this from a gardener’s point of view (I know what colors the plants are supposed to be) rather than from a more scientific approach. I’ll look more carefully at such photos in the future!

  4. glossaria2

    Agreed– the catalogs I like best are the ones that give you SEVERAL pictures of the flower, so you know how it might differ in bright sunlight, shade, time of day, etc. It’s also worth doing a little reading before you go shopping so you know what’s possible and what’s photoshopped.

    Image search engines are also your friend. If you look for other pics of the variety that seems to good to be true, you should find at least some actual garden pics that will show you what it really looks like. Reputable sites like Dave’s Garden and plant societies like the American Daffodil Society will show you LOTS of candid photos of what the plant looks like in the real world.

    There is one trick to watch out for that WILL produce a realistic photo, but won’t last in your garden: stem-dying. (You might have done this yourself in elementary school science with a stick of celery.) Florists do it all the time with roses, orchids, mums, daisies, and (of course) carnations. (Green carnations for St. Patrick’s day? Totally stem-dyed.) Some disreputable growers will do it to “enhance” the color for a flower close-up (or misrepresent it entirely). If you put a white cut flower in water with food-safe dye, it will take up the dye and turn that color (or a “marbled” version thereof).

    You can also do this to a living potted orchid, although the effect only lasts for 1-3 bloom cycles, depending on the method used. A grower can nick-and-feed or inject the flower spike of a white orchid with blue pigment before the flowers form, and the blooms will be intensely blue until that spike dies back. They can also inject or feed the roots with blue dye, and it will last until the plant can work the dye out of its system (but the roots, leaves, and everything will have a slight blue tint as well, which is a giveaway to anyone who knows what orchid roots are supposed to look like). Unscrupulous growers charge a LOT for these “rare” orchids, but they’re just plain white orchids that will gradually fade back to their natural color after a few blooming seasons.

    Oh, and one last thing– you mentioned pinks in daffodils. The companies I order from are very up-front about what to expect from “horticultural pink” in daffs (apricot to salmon to coral to pale rose). It’s a fleeting color in heat and sun (meaning, it will “bleach out” rather quickly), so for the best “pink” you can get, you have to plant the bulbs where where the soil will stay cool and the flower will be in partial shade or filtered sunlight. There are some color-changers (like ‘Rainbow of Colors’) that take advantage of the fade– they start orange-reddish and fade to something sorta weakly pinkish. Other “horticultural pinks” have color that will be at its strongest on the first day of bloom, and begin to fade thereafter (more or less slowly depending on the amount of sun).

    Object example: I have ‘Chromacolor’ planted in a few different places in my yard. In partial shade, under my huge crab apple tree (and with vinca shading the soil), the cups are a moderately strong salmon-pink for the first 2-3 days, gradually fading to a pale pinkish-apricot (more apricot than pink). At the edge of that bed, where they receive some afternoon sun, they’re kind of a salmony-orange (like… farm-raised salmon vs. wild? 😀 ). And a clump I planted in a border bed, where they’re in full sun, the cups start bright red-orange and turn to egg-yolk yellow from the fringes inward (which is a really cool effect). (The first year they bloomed, I didn’t even realize they were the same variety as the shaded ones until I checked my planting chart.)

    Here are the daffseek (American Daffodil Society) photos for ‘Chromacolor,’ : https://daffseek.org/detail-page/?cultivar=Chromacolor&auto=1 and for ‘Rainbow of Colors’: https://daffseek.org/detail-page/?cultivar=Rainbow%20of%20Colors&auto=1, which should give you a good idea of how much variation there can be just in one variety.

  5. Thanks for this! I find the differences in photos super frustrating! Most of the time it is the untouched photos that I am actually interested in (I’m not much of a bright colour gardener). I was pleasantly surprised when my ‘Blue Wow’ tulips turned out to be a lovely lilac shade than flaming blue/purple! 🙂 I could see how many people would be disappointed by that, however!

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