VP's Guide to 'Cataloguespeak'

I've warned against this practice before and this year I've found it much easier to resist those catalogues. The descriptions of the plants on offer I've seen so far are so fanciful and excessive, I was almost crying with laughter. However, there's a danger some of you might still be taken in, so here's a quick guide to what some of those descriptions and photos really mean:
  • Classic = It may be new, but it's really hard to tell because it looks just like any other of its kind
  • Easy to grow = Ha ha ha! We're looking at really good profits at these prices!
  • Exclusive = Nobody will touch this with a bargepole apart from us OR we've bred this ourselves and haven't sold it on to anyone yet
  • F1 = we can sell this to you at a much higher price and hey, because any seeds produced don't come true, we can sell it to you again next year
  • Hurry, this variety has been discontinued = we're flogging a dead horse here
  • Mid season half price sale = we've got more of these than we know what to do with OR they're not selling very well
  • Mixed or Shades = contains at least one colour you don't want
  • Pictured as part of an enormous construction = we've put 10x as many plants in here as you would, so you can't really tell how well it flowers and/or trails
  • Pictured with a small child for comparison = it's not really as big as it seems
  • Reintroduced = we're still going to sell this to you as if it's a new plant. In fact we'll say New in the accompanying description, so that it's clear
  • Unusual = it's ugly and we don't really understand why anyone would buy this
  • World's first + cheap price = we've been trawling through our back catalogue to find something we hope you've forgotten we had
And how's this for a description - let's see if you can guess which bedding plant is being described (clue: I don't think it's edible):
Delicious xxxxxs! Frivolous blooms drench the lush foliage in dreamy shades of coral, orchid rose, salmon, pink and white all through the summer until the first frosts. Enjoy their breathtaking displays in...
Or how about (this is a different bedding plant which isn't edible either, though it did make me think of cauliflowers):
Imagine hundreds of dazzling florets spilling over your hanging baskets, cascading from xxxxx [= a trade marked item which would give the catalogue away - Ed] and bubbling from patio containers right through the summer months...
I could go on, but I've got the giggles again. What's the best 'cataloguespeak' you've found so far?

Editor's Note: Photographic evidence withheld in order to protect any innocents which may be lurking in VP's catalogue pile.


  1. Ha ha - very good post VP and so true!catalogue speak has often had me chuckling too :)

  2. oh er....frenzied rush to eradicate any catalogue speak from website ensues...

  3. The word cynical springs to mind! But very true. I especially like the small child for comparison one

  4. There is not a bit of exaggeration in catalogs. Not a bit.

  5. "bubbling from patio containers"--it's a water feature? i like to read the names given to roses & iris, but i skip the rest of the descriptions!

  6. Oh how I love it! The lies, the hyperbole, the excessive language - it, well, um, sort of operatic! My two big betes noires are 1: that potato barrel thing that illustrates about a tonne of spuds growing in a small plastic barrel and 2: plant varieties whose flowers are an unusual colour, illustrated with ghastly colour distortions - eg. blue roses.

  7. Brilliant post! I agree with Plant Mad Nige's pet hates. However, I also loathe catalogues that don't offer bedding plants in single colours. Or bigger plants - town gardeners very rarely have the room to bring on 60 plug plants (plus 20 free)

  8. At a guess, one of the descriptions may be of Impatiens? Or maybe a Petunia, a trailing Verbena or Begonia (do you think I've hedged my bets enough?)

    My favourite catalogue to read is Sarah Raven's, where most plants are either described as 'lovely' or 'my absolute favourite'.

  9. I believe there is a school that catalogue-writing persons secretly train at to hone their craft. Also in attendance at this school: real estate agents, dentists ("this won't hurt at all..."), and lawyers.

    From the description of one annual in a big old glossy catalogue: pretty...enchanting...will steal your heart...non-stop flowering...expectant faces open day and night...bring life to the party...

    Is it a bunch of movie stars or a flower? Who knows?

    Christine in Alaska

  10. I love catalogue speak!

    The world of summer bedding has opened up to me this year as a lot of my customers have requested that I plant some for them.

    I think you are describing a begonia (what do I know)

    I agree with plant mad Nige about photoshopped images - one company, whos leaflets seem to appear with the sunday papers is particularly bad at this with very lurid colours in pictures.

    Like Victoria I also get cross that so many offers are for "mixed" mixed seeds, mixed bedding I really don't like mixed.

    I also don't like having to tell my customers don't buy "that", it doesn't look like that.
    PS Sorry that comment sounds rather stompy! Thats two stompy comments I have lfet on the trot - VP what are you doing to me!!!
    PPS Spell check doesn't recognize stompy, so I have no idea how to spell it.

  11. I agree with Victoria about the 60 plug plants plus 20 free, and have indeed ranted about it on my blog.

    My favourite examples of catalogue-speak are
    Excellent ground cover = it will take over your garden
    Vigorous = you'll never be able to get rid of it

  12. Great post!
    Along the lines of Juliet.. I've seen
    "strong grower" = invasive, a real garden thug!

  13. Ah, yes, my favorite is a description of a Peony: great for floral arrangements = will flop into the mud if not staked, if staked the stems will break on the supports. Second favorite: will grow in difficult spots = rampant weed.
    #3 will form a dense carpet = will smother and choke out any plant in the neighborhood.
    #4 short lived perennial = will die after one year.

  14. I once bought some 'mixed' miniature gladioli. they all turned out to be disgusting salmon pink which I wouldn't have touched with a bargepole if I'd known. Luckily I have a friend who really likes disgusting salmon pink gladioli. Very odd.

  15. Lu, I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that all catalogue plants are a dirty salmon pink. Over the years I've ordered "white" nicotiana (turned out to dirty salmon pink), "blue" hardy geraniums (turned out DSP), "white" pelargoniums (also DSP) and "white" antirrhinums with "purple eye" (yup, solidly DSP). I don't order from catalogues any more. But I enjoy laughing at them.

  16. Hi everyone - glad you enjoyed this post and many thanks for your excellent 'Cataloguespeak' additions. I've enjoyed your comments as much as the fun I had putting this post together :)

  17. Oh, yes. My "mixed" packet of 'Paintbox' nasturtiums was a case in point. It contained every colour of the rainbow, if rainbows came in only orange. Thanks for these.

  18. Helen - that's a very good reverse of my mixed 'rule' ;) Thanks for the link love over at yours :)


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