This week's blog was supposed to be a How To about bringing frogs to your garden but the nonstop snow is making it hard to think about that. Maybe next week it will make sense again when the snow is gone and it’s 40 degrees outside. Right now I just want to curl up by the fireplace and read some of my favorite books, 2022 seed catalogs.
Like most avid home gardeners, for years I lived for the day that garden centers filled their shelves with the season’s bedding plants. It was exciting to get a glimpse of the endless possibilities and to stumble upon something unexpected – an old favorite in a fresh color or a brand new “I’ve never seen this before!” variety. When the pandemic hit and I became reluctant to venture out, my garden center browsing days came to an abrupt halt; I had to find a different way to fill my gardens. Amazon was stocking my pantry, but I just couldn’t bring myself to order zinnias on the web. Instead I went back to an old school method – I ordered seed packets and grew my own plants.
I have to admit that growing bedding plants from seed was not new to me. When we were much younger (oh, sooo much younger), my husband and I owned and operated a retail garden center and landscaping operation that featured over an acre of greenhouse in which we grew a huge variety of annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs, mostly from seed. That however, was a professional operation with all of the bells and whistles we needed to produce thousands of plants. It’s an entirely different story to grow a dozen tomato plants or a flat of celosia on the kitchen window sill. But it can be done very simply without an array of expensive equipment and I assure you that the sense of satisfaction you get from nurturing your own plants from seedling to flower is more than worth the effort.
Growing garden plants from seed has other benefits too. Looking at some of my receipts from last year, I paid anywhere from $2 to $6 for a 4 pack of plants, depending on the variety. Over the course of the planting season, I spent over $500 on two relatively small planting beds. On the other hand, most of the seeds I bought cost under $3 a pack and had enough seed for dozens of plants in them. My zinnia seeds, for example, had around 60 seeds per package. (My mother’s garden was even less expensive ; she saved seeds from year to year in mason jars stored on a shelf in the back of the basement.)
The best reason to try your hand at seed gardening however, is the sheer number of plants from which to pick. By searching through catalogs, you can find varieties that are not found on store shelves. With a little digging, you can find heirloom varieties reminiscent of the incredibly fragrant ones that used to line the pathways in grandma’s garden. You can try vegetables and herbs common to other cultures or plant descendants of vines that once covered Thomas Jefferson’s backyard arbors at Monticello. You can find antique sweet peas to hide an ugly chain link fence or alyssum in exactly the shade to match the pillows on your deck. An unexpected world of plants is at your fingertips, just waiting to be ordered.
While many companies are switching over to online catalogs and ordering, some are still offering consumers the option of hands on, paper booklets filled with beautiful descriptions, gorgeous photos and captivating line drawings. Here are my favorites, the ones that I know have high quality seed at fair prices and provide excellent customer service. Because each company has its own special niche, you’ll want to spend some time browsing through all of them.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
For those who dream of an heirloom garden, Baker Creek is your go-to company. Their seed is certified non-GMO, non-hybrid, non-treated and non-patented. They test all germination rates and will over-pack varieties where germination rates are low. If your goal is a unique, historical garden, then Baker Creek is your answer. Many of their varieties can be traced to the 1600s and 1700s. (Plan a visit to their Mansfield, Mo, farm; it’s worth the trip!)
Seed Savers Exchange
Another source for the environmentally careful gardener, Seeds Savers Exchange also supplies open-pollinated, non-GMO, non-hybrid, untreated seeds. As an added bonus, you get to know the story of your seed when you read the Seed Savers Exchange catalog.
Burpee Seed Company
Arguably one of the best known names in the horticultural industry, Burpee Seed is sold in stores as well as through the catalog. A word of warning about their catalog: The images are so gorgeous you’ll want to order one of everything.
Park Seed Company
Another well-known name in the horticultural industry, Park Seed is a great choice for novice gardeners. Not only is their seed offering top notch, they also have a wealth of useful equipment and pertinent information.
Specializing in All-American winners, Shumway’s has the feel of a return to a simpler time coupled with up-to-date products. They offer newer varieties of vegetables and flowers alongside older, traditional ones. In business for 152 years, this is a company your grandparents probably ordered from.
A flower lover’s dream! If you’re looking for old fashioned fragrance, this is the go to catalog. You’ll want a packet of each offering.
Prairie Moon Nursery
One of the most extensive offerings of native plants and seeds around. This company isn’t just selling seeds and plants, they are dedicated to “ecological preservation and restoration.” Some of the most comprehensive cultivation information available.