As the eye lingers on an image of a plump and perfect tomato or a dewy and perfect rose,
we forget that the mission of a horticultural catalog is to sell, sell, sell. The seed
and nursery business is a highly competitive one and the merchandising focus is generally
on the promise of horticultural fulfillment. Some of the most intriguing illustrations
from Cornell's horticultural catalog collection are behind-the-scenes peeks at the
business of raising and selling seeds and plants.
To produce top quality seed takes great effort and agricultural expertise. The best
seed comes from the best plants and the best plants require not only good soil well
cared for, but also diligent tending during the growing season. Much of the seed harvest
depended on the weather and timing-an extended period of wet weather could wreak havoc
with dry seeds still on the plants or, conversely, seed pods left to dry too long could
shatter and release their contents on the ground. Seeking to minimize risk, after the
completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, many of the larger seed companies
re-located their growing fields to the more temperate climate of California.