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Now comes the deluge of seed and plant catalogs cramming your mailbox, especially if you’ve ordered seeds and plants from a catalog before. Despite what you may think, yes, they do sell your contact information to their competitors. It’s a lucrative part of their business.

And they hire clever copywriters to entice you to buy their seeds or plants. How often have you read a description of a plant, whether edible or ornamental, that tells you the unvarnished truth about the plant’s defects? Such as: if it sits for more than a day with wet feet, it dies; the stems are weak and the flower heads tend to fall over onto the walkway; not the best fruit of its kind but you could make jam out of it if you add enough sugar. I’ll bet your answer is, “Never.”

So let’s have some fun and take a trip through some catalogs, quoting the copy and then translating that into what happens in the real world. You can visit these websites and put yourself on the list to receive any of these catalogs by mail.

Tomato Growers Supply Company offers “Bounty Hybrid Pepper. This sweet banana type lives up to its name in that it puts out an incredible harvest of peppers that typically measure nine or 10 inches long and two inches across.” What the catalog doesn’t tell you is that those plentiful, large peppers are so heavy they will topple the plants unless you spend some time staking and tying up the central stems as well as supporting the branches.

Daisy Farms specializes in small fruits, including the strawberry called “Sparkle. An excellent berry for jams and freezing. This soft, medium sized fruit has lots of flavor. A mid to late season favorite for home gardeners.” Sparkle has a fine flavor, but it pumps out runners — long stems with new plants at their tips — until your patch is soon overrun and each original plant resembles Medusa. Also, note “for home gardeners” and that word “soft.” It means you better not try to sell them commercially because they’ll dissolve into mush before anyone can buy them. Anyway, Daisy Farms saves you from Sparkle by refusing to ship to California.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is an excellent firm with a wide choice of vegetable seeds, but it can’t tell you everything. For instance, it sells seeds of “Sugar Snap Peas. This is the wonderfully sweet, edible pod pea so popular with consumers and gardeners.” And by the way, after they outgrow your six-foot trellis and fall over the other side, they’ll keep growing until they smother themselves. If you like vigor, you’ll love this plant.

Territorial Seed Company tantalizes you with its pawpaw trees: “The pawpaw’s exotic, tropical tasting, three- to six-inch-long fruits have a flavor reminiscent of bananas, with a texture that’s enticingly smooth and creamy.” The catalog offers two varieties: “Shenandoah” and “Susquehanna.” The variety names are the tip-off. The Shenandoah Valley is in Virginia, and the Susquehanna is a river that flows through Pennsylvania into Chesapeake Bay. Just don’t try growing pawpaws in California. I’ve planted them three or four times, and it’s no fun watching them die.

White Flower Farm carries the delightful ornamental phlox called Phlox paniculata “David.” The catalog copy says, “A classic variety that’s extremely free-flowering, it has a vigorous growth habit and produces sturdy stems that will not be pushed around by wind and weather.” They could add that it has leaves that will surely and quickly be covered in mildew if water gets anywhere near them.

White Flower Farm also sells Daphne odora “Aureomarginata,” a woody shrub with wonderfully fragrant flowers in late February. The catalog says, “They thrive in moist, well-drained soil.” Well, unless they just suddenly up and die for no apparent reason, which they are notoriously prone to do. But it’s easy enough to kill them. Just plant them where winter water pools for more than a day and they’ll be gone. The catalog phrase “well-drained soil” is not a suggestion, it’s a command. As Sunset’s New Western Garden Book has it, “It can die despite the most attentive care, or flourish with little attention until you invite all your gardening friends over to admire it, at which point it promptly succumbs without warning just to show you who’s in charge.” Not only that, but every part of the plant is poisonous.

Now that we’ve had our fun mocking the catalogs, let me add that all of these firms are entirely reputable, their seeds and plants are excellent, and of course they want you to know the best things about the plants they sell. But we gardeners know that to read a seed or plant catalog properly, you have to read between the lines.