Posted on 10 July 2007 by

Seed Catalog Review (Part 1)

Seed Magazine Review - reggieCasual

By Reggie Solomon

How do seed catalogs and seed magazines (also referred to as “garden porn” by some especially avid readers) stack up against each other in helping gardeners plan and decide what to grow in their gardens?

Fortunately, most gardeners don’t have to worry about basic seed quality when purchasing seeds and plants from major providers.

So what largely distinguishes providers is how helpful they are to gardeners in planning and preparing their gardens.

This three-part article examines catalogs and magazines produced by three major seeds providers and reviews their comparative helpfulness to gardeners who use these magazines to decide what to grow, purchase seeds, and plan home gardens.

The Contenders
Three magazines representing the best of the seed-provider magazine genre were chosen from a number of competitive contenders. The top three seed-provider magazines of 2007 are from Burpee, Johnny’s Seeds, and Seeds of Change.

Judging a Seed Magazine by Its Cover
Burpee - UrbanGardenCasualJohnny's Seed Cover -UrbanGardenCasualSeeds of Change UrbanGardenCasual A curious thing about seed mags – some marketing rule of thumb must dictate providers can sell more seeds if they feature tomatoes on their magazine cover.

Seed providers use photos of tomatoes and toddlers on their covers to sell seed, the way clothing companies use anorexic models to sell jeans.

Two of the three contenders (Johnny’s and Burpee) prominently feature tomatoes on their cover. Burpee goes the extra mile and includes a photo of a blue-jean-overalls-clad toddler lovingly cradling their company’s plump tomatoes.

Seeds of Change features a busy collage of vegetables and butterflies on its cover with no tomato in sight. Though it does include a small toddler dressed in garden fatigues and another holding a handful of dried beans. (Note to self: A photo of two toddlers makes up for not featuring tomatoes on one’s seed catalog cover).

Now on to the reviews!

Seed Magazine Review


Burpee’s 136-page magazine is uber-consumer friendly!

Burpee squarely targets the everyday, backyard gardener market. Their mag features large color spreads of juicy vegetables organized to maximize visual appeal.

On one double-page spread, you’ll find radishes, flowers and tomatoes all profiled together, not because of their varietal or gardening relation, but because the color of the vegetables is visually pleasing in juxtaposition from a layout perspective.

This style of organization while certainly visually appealing at first can wear on you as you get closer to actually ordering and comparing product categories from different magazines which Burpee’s organization makes more difficult by not being strictly organized by category.

In general, Burpee’s mag is light on technical information, most likely because this added information might frighten the average consumer.

With flowery descriptions sparse on technical gobliguk, Burpee imparts the feeling that you can easily and successfully grow anything simply by buying a packet of seeds, and telling your neighbors what a great seed company you ordered from.

Conspicuously absent from Burpee’s catalog (included in some places, though not consistently throughout) is one piece of information that would have been helpful to have noted for all plants — estimated days to maturity.

Estimated days to maturity is especially important to gardeners with short growing seasons.

As an urban gardener, having the option to choose seeds with shorter growing periods is advantageous since a variety of environmental factors such as shadows cast by neighboring buildings can effectively shorten the growing season and lengthen the time needed to grow some vegetables.

Burpee’s magazine is a very accessible seed catalog overall.

Burpee gets Urban Garden Casual’s “Best Seed Magazine for the American Backyard Gardener” review.

Kudos to Burpee for making gardening appear easy and attainable.

[Click here for the 2nd article in this 3-part series]

8 Responses to “Seed Catalog Review (Part 1)”

  1. Anthony Says:

    I made purchases from all three of these catalogs this year and I agree that Burpee makes it’s seem so easy to grow whatever you want. I’m looking forward to reading your other reviews.

    I’ve only had bad luck with Burpee seeds once and unfortunately it was this season. The Porterhouse Tomatoes on the cover of the Catalog were duds. The seeds germinated poorly and the tomatoes aren’t living up to the 2-3 pound claims. Some of my regular beefstake varieties will probably grow larger than the Porterhouses. But other than that, I’ve been very happy with my many seed purchases over the years.

  2. Reggie Solomon (a.k.a., "reggieCasual") Says:

    This is my first year growing tomato from seed and so far my Burpee Tomato plants are all doing well. I didn’t get any Porterhouse Tomatoes from Burpee, but I did order the following from them: Tomato Tomande, Golden Mama, Red Lightning, Big Rainbow Heirloom, Sweet Tangerine and Viva Italia.

    I’m in Connecticut so my tomatoes are just sprouting yellow flowers and starting to grow small buds. If I come across any duds I’ll definitely let post about it though, it’d probably take at least two years for me to get consistently bad tomato results for me to chalk it up to a companies versus the randomness of nature.

    Glad you’re enjoying the seed catalog review!

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  4. John Says:

    Thanks for the great info on catalogs… It will reaally be helpful..

  5. Rodger Says:

    The worst I ever encountered was a Dutch based company whose catalogue presented everthing beautifully. The trouble was that nothing was to scale. If you were not a seasoned gardener you would order and be very disappointed with the results as experienced by a neighbour of mine. Thankfully since we moved they have not caught up with us! What we need is quality pictures, descriptions and a bit of growing advice thrown in.

  6. Says:

    I totally agree on the need for quality pictures, descriptions and growing advice. Great things we learn from neighbors.

  7. Wine Casual »  Awfully Goode of You to Make It Here! Says:

    […] Urban Garden Casual: Seed Magazine Review Part 1 […]

  8. Emergency Lantern Says:

    Love the blog, found it in bing, how do I subscribe?

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