Planting Seeds of Doubt

How to read between the lines in a seed catalog

By Ray Novitske, Fairfax Master Gardener
A historic blizzard is raging outside while I peruse the garden catalogs I received in the mail this month. They have been languishing on my coffee table, beckoning me with colorful, new plant introductions slathered across their covers. I usually wait for an appropriate time (like during a snowstorm) before examining their content. A garden catalog, a snowstorm and a cup of hot chocolate are a surefire combination to get the gardening juices flowing. But before I — or you — place any orders from these catalogs, let’s consider some of the tactics they use to entice customers.

Xanthos cosmos

Xanthos cosmos photo in seed catalog

First, there are the so-called new introductions. New is a relative term, thrown around in gardening catalogs as often as compost is in our gardens. A new, light-yellow cosmos caught my eye in a recent 2016 catalog. A quick Internet search for the ‘Xanthos’ cosmos, however, reveals that it was introduced in 2014, and several catalogs have offered the seeds for sale since then. While this may be the first year the catalog before me now has offered ‘Xanthos,’ it is certainl