Sunday Salon: Porn for gardeners–seed catalogues

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A few weeks ago on a gloomy February day, I went online and searched for seed catalogues to order. As reported, I had spotted some actual green things emerging from the earth in the front flower bed. This week, I spotted multiple crocuses (should that be crocii?) and lots of snowdrops. The weeping willows down towards Louisville are putting out their long, stringy buds. It’s been raining like crazy, and it’s time to drool over the seed catalogues. So here’s my review of a small spectrum of seed catalogues, from old standards like Burpee’s to SeedSaver’s.

Abundant Life Seeds: These folks are organic, biodynamic and sustainably grown…feel-good seeds, you might say. You can buy natural pest control from them, including 1500 ladybugs and predatory nematodes. They have a smaller selection of flowers, and at least in the catalogue I have, one of the smaller selections of vegetables in general. They do have lots of neat little pictures of the good folks at Abundant Life doing things like separating seeds and washing tomatoes, and lots of little boxes full of helpful information about how to grow squash or potatoes. They have a beautiful orange winter squash called an orangetti hybrid which was tempting, and they sell mushroom kits. Their descriptions of vegetables are detailed and to the point, including how much the final cabbage might weigh and how easy the garlic is to peel.
Thickness: Pretty slim.
Eye candiness: So-so.
Environmental feel-goodness: Excellent.

Annie’s Annuals and Perennials: Okay, I have to confess, Annie’s catalogue actually elicited some moans from me. There are lots of pictures Annie’s flower garden, and it’s gorgeous. This particular catalogue is all flowers (they have veggies online), and lots of the less than run of the mill kind. I’ve got no problem with the old standards in gardening like the marigold and the zinnia, but I’m also very interested in the stuff you don’t see everywhere, and this catalogue is full of those. Annie provides suggestions for which flowers you might plant with each other…the beautiful Apricot Chiffon with the Delphinium belladonna. And I love her descriptions:

“Delicious tutti-frutti fragrance and vibrant glowy sunset colors? Yes! If you haven’t tried this amazing, old-fashioned and properly 3′ tall double flowered Snapdragon–this is the year! I adore it and so will you! Multi-branching, cut back to 6″ and it re-blooms. Overwinters well and makes a killer cut flower! Rich soil for greatest beauty. Sun. Average water. Annual. All zones.”

Beautiful flowers warrant exclamation points! Annie’s has a whole page of “indestructibles” with phrases like “You could drive a truck over this long-lived awesome perennial without doing more harm than breaking its branches.” That’s my kind of flower. Annie will be getting quite a bit of my money this spring, I think.
Thickness: Fairly slim, but much, much more online.
Eye candiness: Wowsa.
Environmental feel-goodness: Hard to tell…they grow their plants the “old-fashioned” way with wind, sun and rain, but not sure about chemicals.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: These are all, as the title suggests, heirlooms. It’s a thick catalogue, so there are lots of heirlooms in here. As Barbara Kingsolver discusses in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, just the names of many heirlooms are poetic. Gray Speckled Palpapye, Penny Rile, Wade’s Giant Indian, and Pencil Cob Dent Corn. That’s just from one page of the catalogue. These are mostly vegetables, with some flowers. Lots of full page pictures of watermelon and very cute children with fruits and vegetables. But at least in this catalogue, there aren’t pictures of every fruit and vegetable, and I need to see what that squash is going to look like. On the other hand, the pictures they do have look like real fruits and vegetables, i.e. not always perfect.
Thickness: Not Biblical, but very wide and pretty thick.
Eye candiness: Just okay. The pictures of the veggies are quite nice, but I need to see very single one. Don’t ask me why.
Environmental feel-goodness: Seeds are non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-patented and heirloom and they give free seeds to folks in poor countries.

Burpee’s: This is one of the seed catalogues I grew up with, and I still have a sweet spot for it. It’s so incredibly colorful and there are so many fruits, veggies, flowers. I remember flipping through this when I was little and begging my mother to order things like the blue rose. Didn’t you want the blue rose? I mean, it’s weird, but come on, it’s a blue rose? They’re short on descriptions, and not as poetic as Annie, but they have so much! Oh, the garden you can grow in your mind just flipping through the Burpee catalogue!
Thickness: About an average New Yorker issue.
Eye candiness: Yum.
Environmental feel-goodness: Burpee’s has started carrying some heirloom seeds, but these are not organic.

Gurney’s: Another childhood favorite. I specifically remember my grandparents, who were farmers, having Gurney’s. Gurney’s is different in that they also have trees and bushes and lots of fruit plants like raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. I also always begged my mother to buy a blueberry bush when I was little, and guess what? Now I can. Why not? The worse it could do is die, right?  The best it could do is give me some blueberries!
Thickness: On the thin side, but with lots of trees, including fruit trees.
Eye candiness: Just okay, except for all the fruit.
Environmental feel-goodness: Not, I think, really Gurney’s thing.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds: From Johnny’s, you can order 50 to 100 pounds of potato starters. You don’t have to, but Johnny’s is obviously catering to some serious farmers, as well as dabblers like myself. They have a lot of heirlooms and organic varieties. It’s quite a wide selection, including epazote, a very cool herb that can be used for us vegetarians go give beans a kind of smoky flavor.
Thickness: Probably the thickest of the bunch. There’s a lot of stuff in here.
Eye candiness: Lots of pictures, but not the kind of catalogue I could gave at for hours on end.
Environmental feel-goodness: Lots of organic and lots of heirloom, but they don’t appear to be a specifically environmentally focused company.

Seed Savers Exchange: This is their short catalogue. Because I’m a member, this year I also got the full catalogue of every seed this organization has saved, and that is, in fact, Biblical. Seed Savers sells seeds, but they’re an organization that is committed first and foremost to preserving seeds. By buying seeds from them, you can become part of that effort. These are all heirloom seeds, and they’re beautiful. You get lots of information in their catalogue about where these seeds came from; every seed has a story, and in their catalogues, you get to hear many of them. Seed Savers is the perfect marriage for me of the child-like joy of Burpee’s, but with a good conscience, as well.
Thickness: The small catalogue is a good thickness; the full catalogue is a door stopper.
Eye candiness: Lovely. Beautiful pictures of everything that’s listed.
Environmental feel-goodness: Excellent. As Annie Dillard says, “Nature will try anything once.” We can’t hold on to all the variety in the world, but it seems like we should try to hold onto as much as we possibly can, and that’s what Seed Savers is all about in the realm of fruits, veggies, flowers and domestic animals.

That’s a very small sampling of what’s out there, I know. All of these are available free for your own perusal, usually by clicking on the links above.  What are some of your favorite seed catalogues and what do you look for in your garden porn?

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Comments

  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog – Books Are Life! And thanks much for the books suggestion, looks like something I have to checkout 🙂 Have a great rest of the weekend,

    Books Are Life,
    Heather

  2. Gardening is not something I've participated in much…but I do love the idea and essence of gardens. I just need someone else to plant and maintain them!

    Thanks for sharing.

    Here's MY SUNDAY SALON POST

  3. I spent much of the day today in my yard. I bought my house two years ago and have worked to bring the yards up to par. My two flower beds are woefully overcome with weeds at the moment, but I am hoping to get them back in shape soon. I haven't even thought of seed catalogues!

    I usually just head to my local gardening store because they have great selection and prices, but it's always nice to supplement.

    Thanks!

  4. Heather, you're most welcome for the suggestion. Great review.

    Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow, great post about the temptation to just piddle about on Sunday's. Thanks for stopping by.

    picky girl, I like the local gardent stores, too, but Annie's had such wonderful things I've never seen at a local garden store. That's great that you're able to be out there working already. It's a bit too cold for my tastes yet in southern Indiana, but maybe this next weekend I'll get out there. Always good to find a fellow gardener. It's not always about how much I buy from the catalogues, as much as the fantasies they inspire.

  5. A useful post for gardeners and garden lovers to maintain their vegetable and flower garden. A must read and helpful blog.

  6. A useful post for gardeners and garden lovers to maintain their vegetable and flower garden. A must read and helpful blog.
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