When the 2012 R.H. Shumway’s Illustrated Garden Guide arrived in my mailbox, my first reaction was, “…this isn’t a seed catalog, it’s a tabloid-sized magazine!” That isn’t the only way this beautifully designed and illustrated seed catalog is unique.
Right out of the gate, you are presented with a colorful display of vegetables. The illustrations and design of the catalog are nicely done in 19th century vintage style, complete with old style fonts and random-yet-organized placement of items. The first and last eight pages of the catalog are in color; but after that, the true style is revealed—the catalog is printed in black and white, on newsprint-esque stock. The company has been selling seeds for 142 years.
The first set of color pages feature a selection of vegetable, herb and flower seeds, with a mention of their online garden planning software. Starting out the black and white pages are seed starting supplies. After that, an impressive alphabetical listing of vegetables begins. Many of the pages have the phrase “Good Vegetables for Better Health” at the top.
One nice touch of the catalog is that non-seed items are mixed in with the pages; usually products for pest control, tools, harvesting, etc. About the mid-point of the catalog, after the index, you get a break from the vegetable offerings. A nice selection of berries, fruit, field corn, and farm and field seed await you.
Back to the veggie listings we go. After going through several pages of vegetable selections, I arrived at the tomato listings. The favorite part of a seed catalog for many gardeners, this time it holds a hidden gem. I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning the Tomato Holder product. It reads, “There are two sure ways to avoid cutting yourself when slicing tomatoes. 1. Have someone else hold the tomato. 2. Use this tomato holder… Aluminum… Great invention.” I knew these folks had a sense of humor!
Rounding out the black and white pages of the catalog are more “Good Garden Helpers”, as they say; primarily pest control products and fertilizers. The catalog finishes strong with eight color pages of flower seed listings, some rare.
The only squabble I would have with the catalog is that organic fertilizers or soil improvers were hard to find. Most of their pest control product listings were humane and/or natural, however.
The online catalog does feature some of the beautiful vintage illustrations for its products, but mostly has color photographs. This can be useful if you are interested in a particular veggie, and would like to see what it “really” looks like. In my opinion, the real Shumway’s catalog is their print version, and a real work of gardening art at that.