Playing the Indian Card

Monday, September 03, 2012

Wonderful Things #4: Seed Catalogues

Do you know where the term “corny jokes” comes from? Old seed catalogues included such jokes, along with the listings for seed corn. As an old technical writer, I find seed catalogues fascinating examples of what can be done to make technical writing, or any supposedly purely functional writing, interesting. Besides the humorous tone, any decent seed catalogue is full of great illustrations, too, sometimes highly educational—a lesson in botany on every page, if that’s your interest. They are also commonly stuffed with sidebar recipes, tips for preserving, craft ideas (how to make a corn broom, for example) and words of wisdom of all kinds. What a wonderful thing they are to look at in February, when the world is still white and you are getting fed up with the long, cold winter.

And, even better, they are free. An addict anywhere in the US can get hundreds delivered to their door free every year. Our selection was more limited in Canada, but I will always remember Dominion Seed House and Stokes Seeds.

Have a look at a nice online flip catalogue here. ( And here’s ahistorical perspective from the Smithsonian ( Here’s a complete catalog from the 40s (, and here’s Luther Burbank’s own from 1915: (

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