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Gardeners Still Await the Annual Catalogs

My past few posts here have centered on a look at the roots of American consumer culture.

I have written mainly about how advertising at the end of the ninteenth century became the major tool which motivated people to buy the goods that were being mass produced.  The garden industry was at the forefront of that movement as we can see from the size of catalogs, filled with seeds, plants, vases, and other assorted garden products including the lawnmower.

This Sunday’s Boston Globe featured a column called “Checking out our consumer culture” in which writer Katherine Whittemore examines six books about advertising, including William Leach’s Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture.

What I liked about her review was that she constructs a line of argument through the books she mentions which is that  advertisng and marketing somehow or other get us to buy things we may not really need.

"Brandwashed", one of the books Whittemore writes about
“Brandwashed”, one of the books Whittemore writes about

In gardening that may be a difficult concept to swallow since we all seem to want the latest plant or the newest fad in our garden.

Now that it is Chrsitmas time I am once again confronted with the question of what new material possession do I need. I again hit the wall because I really don’t need anything. I have enough things. We have enough.

Yet the ad industry continues to push forward the glitter of ever new products.

It is hard to resist advertising and marketing. Whittemore, for example, writes that Whole Foods places its flower section right by the doors, so we are unconsciously ready to associate the store with freshness.

The late nineteenth century seed and nursery companies structured their catalog in a particular way. First, an introductory essay, then columns on gardening and the landscape, followed by the list of seeds and plants for sale, and finally ads.  There was a reason for that order, and that, of course, was to motivate the gardener to make a purchase.

This year, since December 1, I have already received several  garden catalogs, some  of substantial size.

In this holiday season, as both a gardener and one interested in the study of advertising, marketing, and public relations, I must say that the consumer culture is alive and well.

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