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The Annual Seed Catalog Still Arrives in the Mail

With the Internet you’d think there would be no printed seed catalog, but they still come in the mail, as they have for almost 200 years.

Though there are fewer catalogs, they remain important in choosing seeds for the garden. Gardeners still look forward to them.

Barbara Melera, owner of the oldest continuing seed company in the United Sates, the Landreth Seed Company, begun in 1784, said, “Most people who buy seeds get seed catalogs and make lists. Then they go online for the seeds.”

The D. Landreth Seed Company’s current catalog, 2013

She says, “Our catalog is unique. It is an historic reference.” The imagery and design reflect the old time seed catalog of the nineteenth century. The current Landreth catalog here lists 900 seed varieties within its 102 pages. [above]

The seed catalog has long served the gardener as an indispensable resource.

When David Landreth began his company, he simply listed the seeds for sale. Thus the catalog, a marketing tool used by other businesses as well, became a few pages of the names of flowers and vegetables, often called a circular. But that soon changed.

Early nineteenth century immigrants to American came from European cities with no experience in gardening or farming. In 1847 Landreth’s son John issued a new kind of catalog with 60 to 70 pages, including instructions on how to plant and grow the seeds he sold. Landreth taught his customers about planting, including what needed to be done in the garden each month during the growing season.

By 1859 he printed 600,000 catalogs. The train and pony express delivered them across the country. Since only three million people lived in America at that time, the Landreth catalog probably appeared in every house in the US till the 1860s when the population exploded. Landreth taught his customers how to live off the land.

That form of the catalog for the seed industry, a list of seeds with growing instructions, has remained the format for the garden catalog to this day.

Unfortunately this year, because her catalog costs so much to mail, Melera has decided not to publish a new catalog. She said, “I’m devastated there is no catalog.” She will keep the price for any seeds the same as listed in last year’s catalog. In the future she hopes to issue a two or three-year catalog. A Landreth catalog will continue to arrive in the mail, but it won’t be a new edition each year.

Since the Internet has become the new sales tool for seed companies, Melera prefers customers to buy online. She says, “That’s easier for both sides.”

Though the Landreth Company provides an active presence on Facebook, Melera says, “Catalogs are much more important than Facebook and the Internet.” She says, “Photographs are essential. People want to see what the plant looks like.”

Though today there are fewer seed catalogs, they still arrive in the mail at this time of the year. Gardeners like to page through them to see the flowers and vegetables. Then they decide what varieties to buy. That’s not much different from how American gardeners have shopped for seeds for decades.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

    1. Charlotte, I agree with you one hundred per cent. The joy of the catalog lay in the art work on the cover and the inside pages as well. I remember seeing the 1886 catalog from the Rawson Seed Company from Boston. Inside I found a chromolithograph of a cottage garden with lively, bright colors. The image looked like it was just placed in the catalog. A real treasure of a moment.

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