Seed Catalog Savvy (cont)
By: Kathy Bond Borie
Reading between the lines
Once you get beyond the pictures, the variety descriptions can help put a plant's attributes into clearer perspective. Descriptions usually include specifications, such as plant height and spread, flower size, fruit size, the number of days to fruit or flower. Of course, these numbers are rough estimates because every garden has a unique climate. The written descriptions are also places for the company's expertise to show through. When the description gives a lot of concrete information about the attributes of a plant and details about how to grow it, this increases your confidence in that company and your chances of success.
Catalog companies steer away from negative words to describe a plant, but some companies are more direct than others about pointing out a plant's drawbacks. For example, the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog description of the heirloom 'Old Time Tennessee' muskmelon reads "Must be harvested exactly at peak ripeness and not a good keeper, but flavor is outstanding." Now you know that if you can only get to the garden once a week to check for ripe fruits, you're better off selecting a different variety. This truthfulness in advertising might just sell you on buying from a particular company. Of course, words can be misleading too. If you compare flowers on the basis of descriptive words alone--a "gorgeous" flower versus a "beautiful" flower versus a "lovely" flower--the terms become meaningless. Watch for certain words that may be telling you more than you think. For example;
* "Mild-tasting" might mean bland.
* A "vigorous" grower may take over the garden.
* Vegetables touted for their "beauty" may not be especially tasty.
* A "pungent" plant may actually have an offensive smell.
* "Late-maturing" could mean risky in all but warm regions.
Legally, there are only a few specifics that must be on all seed packets. In 1940, the U.S. Government passed the Federal Seed Act, which guarantees a certain level of quality for all vegetable seed sold in packets weighing less than 1 pound. The law requires that the packet include information about the type and variety of seed enclosed and the company name and address. In addition, hybrid seed must be labeled as such. If the seed has met or has exceeded the federal germination standard for that variety, the packet does not need to contain any information about germination percentage. If the germination rate was lower than the standard for that type of vegetable, the packet must state that the seed is below standard and include the germination percentage and the date of the test. There are no federal regulations for flower seed packets; however some states do have requirements.