Perusing the Sears catalog was good training for seed shopping


As a child, I would pore over the thin pages of the Sears catalog, dog-earring them and using markers to highlight items I would be certain to ask Santa about. I was so influenced by this two-inch-thick catalog, fittingly called the “Christmas Wish Book,” that I couldn’t properly formulate a letter to Santa without it. For better or worse, that wish list once included a child-size drum set I’d become so enamored with that I included a page number to make Santa’s job easier.

It turns out that the Sears catalog was excellent practice for the catalog page-flipping I’ll be doing over the next month. These days, instead of coveting toys that I didn’t know existed until Sears came along, I expect to find myself coveting vegetable oddities and uniquely colored flowers.

That’s because in addition to this newspaper and a stack of holiday cards, my mailbox this week will be full of seed catalogs. There’s a reason why seed sellers have continued to rely on catalog marketing long after other parts of the retail market gave up on it, and it’s because the best way to sell seeds to gardeners is to show them pretty pictures in the middle of winter.

As seed catalogs come in, they form a stack, multiplying like forget-me-nots in perfectly moist soil. I like to let the anticipation build a little, so I don’t allow myself to dive into them until the holiday decorations are tucked away.

My system for dog-earring pages is one I refined on the Sears catalog. A small corner turned over indicates there’s something on the page worth a second look. A slightly larger turned corner means there’s something I really like. And a turned corner that takes up about a third of a page means it needs to be ordered immediately.

The gardening equivalent of the Sears catalog is the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, which at nearly 600 pages is enough to lose yourself in for an afternoon. Not everyone gets the full version, but you can buy it on their website for $13. If dropping the equivalent of three or four packets of seeds on a catalog doesn’t sit well, they’ll happily send the abbreviated 160-page version for free.

The catalog is full of more varieties of flowers and vegetables than you might think is possible, most accompanied by richly saturated photos and descriptions and growing information that makes the catalog worth keeping around as a reference guide. More than once I have been tempted to grow a vegetable I don’t care for the taste of just because it was so beautiful I had to have it. I told you that catalog marketing worked.

That’s something that both Sears and Santa knew, because Santa brought that drum set for me that year. Of course I had no idea how to play the drums and it turns out I lack a natural sense of rhythm, so my drum set and I were banished to the basement to practice.

My music career didn’t pan out, but it turns out that the basement idea had legs. It’s where I’ll start the Aji Cachucha pepper seeds I get from Baker Creek under grow lights. You’ll find the page in my catalog marked with a big folded corner.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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