working on my seed-catalog list: any favorites?

runner bean seedsI EMAILED MY FRIEND ANDREW LAST WEEK to ask what’s new in seed catalogs. It’s that time of year to make sure you’re on the list for the email alert or a physical copy as soon as the best ones open for 2010 business. Andrew always has a line on some clever plant-related thing or other, but no, he said (being Andrew-like), I don’t have any right now…but then of course rattled off a few that were new to me anyhow. I’m updating my Sources list and thought I’d put out the word for other hot leads, like these from my old pal:

Andrew (we did a radio show together and he co-owns a local nursery near me) was right when he said he and I use a lot of the same ones, year in and out—Johnny’s and Sand Hill Preservation and Baker Creek and Seed Savers and Fedco and the others displayed under “Sources” in the sidebar on every blog page here. But I had never been to Ginny Hunt’s Seedhunt before, nor to Secret Seeds in England, not even virtually. Thanks, Andrew.

The former is serious business: an old-fashioned list like all my favorite catalogs were when I was first learning to garden (meaning no photos, and lots of Latin names). It’s filled with things I’m enjoying looking up and then imagining places for in the garden, an impressive list of California natives, for instance, some of which would do as annuals and maybe even then self-sow here; an equally strong list of Salvia, and more. Don’t be shy: I don’t know what an Amsinckia is, either, nor a Hemizonia—but I’m having fun finding out. Winter is long, and dark here, and besides, I am easily entertained.

Secret Seeds uses proper names, too, but there are also thumbnail photos of everything from Goji berry (in the health headlines for its supposed anti-aging properties) and a whole line of Laura Ashley flowers, of all amusing things. I expect I will have some distractions in this catalog’s online pages, which include both ornamentals and edibles, in weeks to come.

Which unusual titles are you waiting most impatiently for at your (digital or postal) mailbox?

  1. I love Seeds Savers Exchange, Thompson & Morgan, & High Mowing Organic Seeds. I daydream about seeds from Chiltern Seeds & Jelitto since they have so many UK plants we don’t have here but sadly I don’t have enough patience to grow any of these. I still like Burpees and Johnny’s for selection, good photos and easy to read catalogs.

  2. lynn druskat says:

    i have been growing and sharing the scarlet runner bean for years, i think i may have passed it off as an empress bean as well, i got my first pod in Camden Maine, i was on a little roadie and it was the end of the season and the pod was just hanging there, so, i took it, i now have bowls of the seeds, make small packets to share with friends, and it is the very best bean for the hummingbirds, i let it ramble up the trellis in the veggie gardens, giving shade for my greens during the warm season. L

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Abby. I have to go look at The Tasteful Garden, thank you – not sure I know it. Pinetree is a good one, you are right; I haven’t ordered from there in many years but will have a new look.

      Welcome, Risa. I had forgotten High Mowing, so thanks for the reminder on that score. I love the English ones, too…they seem so grown-up and serious. :)

      See you both soon again, I hope.

      @Lynn: I should have mentioned those are scarlet runner beans in the photo; thank you for bringing it up. A plant I always grow, decade after decade.

  3. andrew's mother says:

    Oh that Andrew.
    There is a winter snow watch for tomorrow night in mid-Michigan. It will cover up the brown landscape and I will buy a new houseplant.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Andrew’s Mother: Yes, Shirley, THAT Andrew. Our Andrew – thanks for sharing him with the rest of us. Hope you get your blanket of white, and also that we see you here soon again.

  4. I have to recommend Chiltern seeds (British, as Risa said) they are expensive but awesome, and their catalog is HIGHLY enjoyable reading.
    I also enjoy Specialty Perennials (www.hardyplants.com) — the worst customer service ever, but a brilliant array of perennial seed — lots of stuff I would usually have to get from one of the UK sources, but at much more reasonable prices.

  5. Annemarie says:

    I LOVE the White Flower Farm catalog. It has wonderful definitions and explanations of everything. Worth saving throughout the year for good gardening tips, etc.

  6. elizabeth says:

    agree with the above: seed savers, baker creek, sandhill.
    but i also like strolling through the lists from territorial, j.l. hudson seeds, kitazawa. the hudson can be great reading…

    will have to look into chiltern, and other britishy catalogs, though i think it will only remind me of what i can not grow in iowa…

  7. Gloria says:

    Enjoyed the slide show and enjoyed the first snow… gardening friends traveled up from PA to enjoy Victorian house tour Saturday evening in ice and snow…and then a brilliant cold Sunday tour! At the same time, we also delighted our gardening souls, in a self-guided secret bones of the gardens tour, as some houses on Christmas tour where also on summer garden tour! :)
    A friendship that started in a Pocono herb garden and has grown and blossomed for 26 years! We exchanged Christmas gifts… yes, plants (lemon scented Christmas trees), Heritage Hydrangeas, Tuscan herb pots, ergonomically correct garden tools (Ages 55, 67, & 86)! Gardens truly bridge the generation gap…A toast of Christmas Wine, Christmas visit,Christmas tea, with a reading of :A Cup of Christmas tea by Tom Hegg and a promise to go in search of wild ephemeral plants in the spring. Between now and spring I will be looking for ergonomical garden tool catalogs and will keep you posted and welcome input from my winter gardening friends on awaytogarden!
    Nice to know Margaret is here all year! Thanks for reminding me there are pots to bring in. G

  8. cris says:

    Not a catalog but a good read ABOUT two gardeners who corresponded about seed catalogs:

    Two Gardeners, A Friendship in Letters (Katherine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence), edited by Emily Herring Wilson (2002, published by Beacon Press).

    I picked this up at a used book sale at library . . . most enjoyable!

  9. Amy G. says:

    Have you tried the R.H. Shumway catalog? Theirs is good, as is their Seymour’s Selected Seeds. Thank you for the timely reminder to make sure I’m on the best mailing lists!

  10. Ingrid says:

    These may be too region-specific for your garden, but other readers may be interested to check out West Coast Seeds and Saltspring Seeds. The former catalogue is a wonderful primer on growing food from seed, and the latter is a source of rare beans and peas, and inspires us to take the sustainability of our food into our own hands (and gardens).

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cris. That is an amazing story, anda great book — thank you for suggesting it to help us all with our winter’s nap. Nice to “meet” you and hope to see you soon again.

      Welcome, Ingrid. Thank you for those ideas. There are visitors here from everywhere (even NZ and the UK and elsewhere), and besides, many West Coast things do well for us as tender things needing storage in winter, or as annuals. So glad to have you here; see you soon.

  11. Lisabeth Davis says:

    I used E & R seeds last year – great selection and price, no fancy photos or paper printing, they may not even have a website (gasp!) but you can Google them – they are a Mennonite business in Monroe, IN. I also like http://www.highcountrygardens.com/ – a nursery/plant site from Santa Fe, NM – lots of xeric stuff and other plants adapted to cold weather. We had -10 degrees last Friday morning and about 5 inches of snow on the ground – so winter has really set in here!

  12. MJ says:

    One of the oldest catalogs that I’ve kept up with Nichols.
    They are a family operation and I’ve watched the changes over 30 years. Very cool. I live in the Caribbean and the gardening rules are different but it is still fun to try something I used to grow in the states that shouldn’t grow here (I’d LOVE to grow some Jeruselum artichokes!). Nichols carried unusual, organic seeds long before many did and each year I’d try something new. They always have something I’ve never heard of before.

  13. chigal says:

    I think the catalogs that buy lists (as opposed to mailing by request) must have to, while more experienced gardeners flock to the better seed providers by choice! I’ve been wooed by a few catalogs that mysteriously appeared in my mailbox, but I’ve learned to stick with the providers that have a high standard of quality. Figuring out which those are is another matter…thanks for the tips!

  14. Ken says:

    I like the small seed companies like Turtle Tree Seeds. Their farm is part of a Steiner Camphill community and offers bio-dynamic seeds grown all over the county, but many of the seeds are grown right here in the Hudson Valley.

  15. Balsamfir says:

    I usually order from Chilterns and Jelitto, and from Fedco for vegetable seeds. All of them have been great, with reliable germination, interesting varieties, and in the case of Fedco, Monsanto free.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Howard. Another good one…I have been there before but had completely blanked on it and this is a great reminder, so thank you very much. All these great suggestions for everyone will make the wintertime pass much less slowly (although I wonder how I will control my seed-buying impulses with so many new outlets for binging). :)

  16. lynn druskat says:

    Oh, not sure if you have ever checked, Avant Gardens, they are in Dartmouth Ma, zone 7, maybe, we are all in zonal denial, any way, they have a wonderful online catalog, fabulous nursery and they mail order, Kathy and Chris Tracey are ever so informed and up on so many rare and wonderful plants, they love salvias!!! check it out, might even be worth a field trip, they have great gardens, and Haskell nursery is near by. enjoy, Lynn

  17. Amy Olmsted says:

    I highly reccommend Select Seeds. They carry mainly heirloom and fragrant flower seed and are nearby in Connecticut. I’ve been ordering from them for years and are a great resource for Sweet Pea seed as wall as so many other old-fashioned varieties.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Amy. Yes, I remember going to see Marilyn Barlow when she first opened the business from her home years ago, and writing about her. She has done a great job, and it’s a great catalog. Hope to see you again soon, and thank you for “voting” for her.

  18. Anne says:

    A while back, I led a workshop with a handful of gardeners and they brought some of their faves and we evaluated them. One that seems to keep raising the bar is Perennial Pleasures. They take such care in packaging their plants, a rarity in this day and age. And when I was sorting out the differences between Adenophora and Campanula rapunculoides, PP was the first place one of my experts had ever found an Adenophora that really WAS an Adenophora. Most of these plants are tested in Rachel Kane’s own gardens so you can trust that she knows of what she speaks. Also have to put a plug in for the important work Seedsavers Exchange is doing in northeast Iowa!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Anne. I do not know Perennial Pleasures but will have a look at their assortment of heirloom plants, which is what they apparently specialize in. Thanks. I remember a trip with Martha Stewart to Seed Savers years and years ago; what a great adventure, and lovely people. Have shopped there for what seems like ever; I agree with your endorsement. See you soon again.

  19. Rox says:

    Well-Sweep Herb Farm in eastern Pennsylvania(www.wellsweep.com) has an extensive list of herb plants listed by botanical names. Nowhere else have I seen more varieties of thymes, salvias, and lavenders. There are no photos and only scant descriptions, so you learn a lot about different species by looking them up. I have mail-ordered plants from Well-Sweep several times over two decades and their plants are well grown, correctly labelled, and carefully packed. One of these years I would like to visit their display gardens.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Rox. Well-Sweep! That brings back memories. I used to order herbs from them — the Hyde family — every year but haven’t in so very long. Thanks for the reminder. No seeds, though…but great plants. Great suggestion.

  20. Christine R. says:

    There is not much I love more during the winter than looking thru garden catalogues on line or in hand. I can only think of one seed site not already mentioned, http://www.sarahraven.com. Thanks to everyone now I have even more to peruse and learn from, more to tempt me…

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