Garden Catalog Review: Burpee
As we are in the grip of bitter cold, this is a good time to sit inside and peruse the garden catalogs. To my mind, garden catalogs are a genre of literature like historical fiction or vampires. Or perhaps they are best thought of as fact-based graphic novels. In any case, they are as worthy of review as other forms of literary diversion.
Burpee’s 2014 cataolog was the second one to arrive in my mailbox this year. Burpee is a venerable company, plus it has a name that can elicit giggles from small children. Even so, I haven’t ordered anything from Burpee since the late 20th Century. However, as is often the way with catalogs, my subscription seems to be permanent.
Overall, the Burpee catalog has a vaguely retro feel to it. The cover features a child’s hands holding a massive shiny red tomato and proclaims: “NEW! ‘Steakhouse Hybrid’ TOMATO. The world’s biggest beefsteak!”
If you enjoy looking at pictures of perfect tomatoes, raspberries, string beans, and sweet corn (and who doesn’t) – then this is the catalog for you. Most of Burpee’s 150 glossy pages are devoted to exactly that.
Burpee’s does carry some heirloom varieties, but they are mostly about the hybrids. For instance, they have 16 hybrid varieties of cucumber, but only two heirlooms.
The catalog offers plants as well as seeds. You can buy a three-pack of tomato plants for $17.95 plus shipping – which personally I would not do for several reasons, starting with price.
Actually, Burpee suffers from an “everything for everyone” syndrome. Their target audience may not be into organic gardening, but just in case they have a page of organic seeds. In addition to the core offerings for edible gardens, there are also roses, annuals, perennials, and grasses. However, their selections for the ornamental garden are often disappointing. For example, they have only five varieties of roses. If you’re only going to offer five varieties, then why bother?
I do enjoy the anonymous testimonials. For instance, “Georgia gardener” says of sunflower ‘Solar Flare’: “Amazing, vivid, lustrous colors!” And “New Jersey gardener” states unequivocally of ‘Big Daddy’ tomato: “Now THAT is a tomato!”
The catalog writers express themselves just as enthusiastically. However, I do have a few quibbles with how they present their offerings. For example, other than a symbol for sun or shade, little to no cultural information is provided. Does the plant prefer moist or dry soil, acid or neutral? The reader is left pretty much without a clue.
Also, Burpee lists some plants by common name and others by the botanical name. This is a recipe for confusion. Ornamental plants, at least, should be listed by botanical name first.
So basically, grab yourself a Burpee catalog if you want to daydream about the anticipated glories of next year’s vegetable garden. But if you want a wide selection of ornamentals or heirloom edibles, I’d have some more catalogs as backup. Which, believe me, I do.