Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Best of the Seed Catalogs - 2011

A Cartoon by Joseph Tychonievich

The seed catalog people are all about pushing new varieties and getting them to the market as soon as possible. Many times there is less field testing of the varieties then there should be for a new product introduction. My philosophy is they are only annuals and I enjoy the anticipation of finding the next holy Grail or finding the quickest new addition to my compost pile. So with this perspective in mind, here are some of the best seed catalogs and the annuals and vegetables I'd like to try in the 2011 growing season.


Coconut Ice Sunflower is the world's first white sunflower according to the company. They hedged their bet on the color because it starts out a rich, vanilla color and bleaches out to white. If you ask me, although the blooms are smaller, I'd rather grow the ever dependable 'Italian White', It's a classic in my book but Coconut Ice could become a classic if it lives up to the hype.

The Cook's Garden

This is a new company for me whose niche is seeds for gourmet gardener. Green Envy tomato is like no other cherry choice out there. The Emerald Green doesn't look appetizing so I'd have to taste before I'd be sold but if you're early adopter kind of person, go for it. They're offering a trio of plants including Green Envy, the wildly popular Sungold and the classic red Ladybird for $15.95. Should make for a feast for the eyes on an appetizer tray.

One of my first crops of lettuce I ever grew was the simple oakleaf variety. For a leaf lettuce, the intriguing texture of nothing else out there. Their Oakleaf Mix contains two green varieties and two red. Another feast for the eyes and mouth.

John Scheepers Kitchen Seeds

Another new company for me but it's been in business since 1908. Nothing new to report but I love their catalog. The cultural instructions for each vegetable are clear and concise. The catalog's most important features are the illustrations and their quantity. They've been commissioned by an artist who has been drawing plants for the New York Botanical Garden for over 30 years and The Smithsonian Institution. Check it out for the breadth of varieties and enjoy the catalog.

Territorial Seed Company

I've been receiving their catalog in the slew I get each winter but never took the time to look at it. After taking a closer look at the 168 page catal, it's been my loss. It takes a lot to shock me any more but they're offering grafted tomato plants. Grafted vegetables are created when the top part of one plant
(the scion) is attached to the root system of a separate plant (the rootstock) The rootstock contributes vigor and disease resistance while the scion is chosen for fruit flavor and quality. This type of process has been used in fruit trees and grape vines for centuries. You've seen the most common use of grafting in most roses with the exception of the Knockouts.

The grafting is done by hand and I can't imagine pulling this off in a commercial operation. The comparison photos show a dramatic change in fruit set and plant size of the grafted versus the traditional plant. So now you're thinking about cost. A typical plant in their catalog is $3.50, the single graft is $6.,95 and the double graft is $11.50. Let me know your results if you decide to invest (and I do stress invest) in your tomato plants.

Select Seeds

This is a catalog designed for lovers of flowers. The flowers are grouped in categories such as Fragrant, Cottage Gardens

Four O'Clocks are one of the easiest flowers to grow making them an excellent choice for children to plant the seeds by themselves. As the name implies, the flowers come out only in the afternoon and evening with a beautiful fragrance. .This company has an impressive line up of six including a new color named Salmon Sunset that looks very exciting.

Speaking of easy flowers, cosmos were traditionally pink, purple and white in the Sensation mix. But since the breeding work got intense in the last 10 years, there are more intense colors and flower forms. Select Seeds has an impressive lineup of a dozen including Cranberries which is featured on the cover of this years catalog. Cranberries is a garnet-hued selection. As opposed to four o'clocks, cosmos make excellent cutflowers and the more you pick, the more you get.

Park Seed

Park has offered seeds to customers from South Carolina since 1868. While I was growing up this was always my favorite. Speaking of favorites, I think I might have found a new favorite zinnia. Queen Red Lime's colorization is a mix of salmon and lime that my words alone can't describe. Go to to see for yourself.

My other selection is a new mix of the well proven Profusion zinnia series. Some of the colors have won the AAS Gold Medals but the new Sunrise Mix caught my eye. It's a combination of white, yellow and Fire. I'm working on a project where I'm lining a concrete ramp built for my wheelchair. To soften the harsh concrete, I'm creating 18" border designed for the Profusions. It will be fun to mix up the colors each year.

Seed Savers Exchange

SSE is a non-for-profit company with a mission to preserve and distribute heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers. The members save and exchange seeds to preserve our garden heritage for future generation. The revenue from each packet helps support the mission. Their 890 acre Heritage Farm, near Decorah, IA, helps maintain one of the largest collections of open-pollinated heirloom varieties in the United States. For most varieties, the catalog shares a brief story on where the seed source was found.

There are two re-discovered tomatoes new to the catalog. The most exciting is Lemon Drop which an SSE Florida found as a sport of Snow White Cherry. It has a refreshing tart sweet flavor which won the SSE 2010 Tasting Award. They also sell plants for $3.00 but if I were you I'd get my order in early with that testing award before they sell out.

The other tomato is an Italian heirloom named Rosso Sicilian. This variety was brought to the US by a Sicilian man in 1987 and given to a SSE member in Indiana who said its slices look like red-petaled flowers. It's as perfect choice for making tomato sauce or paste.

Seeds of Change

Seeds of Change is another company preserving biodiversity and supporting sustainable organic agriculture. SOC donates 1% of net sales support seed oriented causes. Their most exciting new offerings include a trio of summer squash when grouped together make an awesome display. The three globe type varieties are Geode, Satelite and Floridor. Check out the back cover with a picture of the three displayed together at a farmer's market for inspiration to grow all three.

White Satin is a ivory colored Nantes type carrot with 8" long roots. Nantes are more sausage looking as opposed to the long tapering traditional carrot. They look fantastic as a bunch or grouped with other carrots for a more rainbow effect.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

The power house of the heirloom seed industry is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Thompson & Morgan

T& M is a classic British seed company dating back to 1855. You have to be careful with your selections since the varieties are proven in European trial not American. But if you're looking for something different and willing to take some risks, you might enjoy the experience.

Basil Aristotle is a miniature basil topping at only 8" tall which is perfect for growing ntsin pots. At that size I recommend planting it by itself in containers since it would easily overwhelmed by larger plants in a mixed container.

One of my favorite garden experiences as a teenager was growing a packet of open pollinated cone flowers from Park Seed. I planted a row and was blown away by the variance of plant size, leaf shapes and flower forms from one packet of seed. Although there is selective breeding involved in this case, I think it would be a blast to see what comes out from their Magic Box Mixed packet. If you have the space in the veggie garden, plant a row and after they flower select the ones you'd like to add to your perennial or mixed border.
I've saved the last spot for one of the best: Maine's own Johnny's Select Seeds. This is a company with heart. Not only for being employee owned but also the passion of its testing program. My only knock on JSS is you have to wade through the book to find the new stuff. Come on Johnny, give it to me straight. Put the best of the new on the first few pages or flag them with a big red NEW!. I love you man but you could make me love you more if you give it to me straight upfront.


Blackswamp_Girl said...

I love Territorial Seeds! I can't speak for the plants, but all of the seeds (and the garlic, in the fall) that I have purchased from them have been outstanding.

I hope that if you decide to spring for the grafted tomato, you post up a review. My gardening friend Dave is going to do some grafting of his own this year... I'll have to ask him about the rootstock he's using, because it's a very specific type.

Shady Gardener said...

You have a great list here! I've not begun mine, yet... but I think I had better get going! Thanks for your visit today. :-)

Patrick said...

Hey Blackswamp Girl,
I have a small yard so I just rely on farmer's market for tomatoes. But I'll try to convince the recognized tomato guru in Kansas City to do some testing for me. I'll keep everybody updated on their performance in 2011. We all know 2010 tomatoes sucked air with last year's weather.

Thanks for your comment.

Beth said...

Cute cartoon, and I love your philosophies. I have some seeds picked out but not yet purchased. I can't wait for spring!
Blessings, Beth

Patrick said...

Hey Beth -
When you tie together the thought of spring and purchases I do get a little stressed. I think of all the seeds and plants we order and then the spring rains start and keep going and going. And next thing you know, you barely get 1/2 planted. So I'll just focus on all the pretty catalogs and decompress for now.

Thanks for your comments.

Cheryl said...

Love the cartoon! Another company would be Johnny's Select Seeds, I have had great luck with them.

Patrick said...

Hey Cheryl -
i can't believe I skipped Johnny's. Doing business with an employee-owned company just feels good. I'm adding right now.
I do appreciate you bringing such a hole in the list to my attention.