So much botanical porn


What started as a trickle of plant and seed catalogs is now a full-on deluge. Each season easily brings a couple of pounds' worth of Stark Brothers, Breck's, Burpee, and countless other mailers brimming with crisp close-ups of swollen buds, glossy foliage, and flower heads ablaze in myriad, awe-inspiring hues. They are so so so pretty, and, about this time each year, I place entirely too many orders for the heirloom seeds and rare plants being pushed -- which means I'll invariably receive still more catalogs from garden supply retailers looking for a piece of the action next year.

But that doesn't always square so well with me, since I see gardening as a kind of environmental activism. In part, I do it to help area wildlife. And growing lots of my own food boosts my self-sufficiency, as canning veggies, freezing fruit, and storing homegrown onions and potatoes translates to fewer car trips to the grocery store. Too bad then that those printed catalogs aren't exactly earth-friendly.

I'm not sure about the numbers of catalogs produced by, say, the members of the Mailorder Gardening Association, but, in general, the environmental nonprofit ForestEthics reports, North American catalog retailers such as Sears, Lands' End, and Sharper Image send out more than 20 billion catalogs each year. And few among them are printed on recycled paper. But if the catalog industry were to commit to using paper with just 10 percent post-consumer content, over 850,000 tons of wood would be spared annually, according to Sierra Magazine.

With that in mind, I now primarily do business with garden retailers with strong, on-line catalogs or those which have chosen to print on recycled stock. Also, I pass my print catalogs on to other interested gardeners whenever I can. And when I get catalogs filled with high-maintenance roses and fancy hybrids I'll likely never order? I ask that my name be removed from a company's mailing list altogether. (Incidentally, the ForestEthics folks are fighting for "Do Not Mail List" legislation to help reduce the amount of unwanted catalogs and junk mail sent out in the first place.) 

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