Garden Catalogs: A few helpful translations

From my 1948 edition of Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening by Norman Taylor


Listen up, class. It’s garden catalog season. Time to review a few garden terms. These ones are sneaky words and phrases (aka weasel words) with a hidden agenda seeming to mean one thing, but really meaning something else entirely.

You’ve seen weasel words in ads for other things; words like chocolatey (translation: dark matter that pretends to be chocolate, while containing very little actual chocolate).

Get the idea? Now, let’s practice translating a few weaselly terms that gardeners should be aware of:

“Attractive when well-grown What it really means: Honey, not in your garden.

“Flowers from spring to frost” – Well, it’s spring or frost somewhere in the world, right?

“Easy to grow, even in poor soil” –  Have you read The Day of the Triffids?

“Needs moisture” – Never, ever, let it dry out.

“Needs full sun” – Oops, was that your shadow?

“Vigorous” – Approach with caution. Like Attila the Hun, bent on garden domination.

“Thrives on neglect” – So take care of it at your peril.

“Happily self-seeds” – Everywhere! Alternative meaning: Except where you want it to.

Right. Now you have the hang of it, what others can you come up with? Ready? Set? Go!

UPDATE: Thanks to UK garden blogger VP of Veg Plotting (the Garden Media Awards Blog of the Year 2012) for adding this and this to our lexicon. VP blogged about what she calls cataloguespeak way back in 2010, so scoot on over to have a look. There will be a short quiz after the program.


  1. What's more important than just the growing traits but whether the seeds are GMO'd F1 or not. Chances are the print will be so small it won't even show up under microscope. Or, that 100% of packet seeds are supplied by hybridized methods to ensure high quality traits, high cost and non reproduction. You won't get any seed for next year. See how Thompson & Morgan dances around this fine point here.

  2. Tee hee – I've previously written a couple of posts on this very topic myself. Such fun to do 🙂

    E.g. Fast growing – will engulf your house in just one season

    I called mine 'cataloguespeak' – let me know if you'd like the links so you can have a peek 😉

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