April 10, 2012

7 Great Seed Companies You Can Trust

Do you remember the day you planted your first vegetable or flower seeds? For me, it started in hot, smoggy southern California. Both my Mom and my Nana loved their 1960's suburban back yards, but never wanted to plant seeds. Mom had six different fruit trees (none that ever produced any edible good fruit) and lots of ice plant around her nicely manicured lawn. Nana had a lovely rose garden, a huge lawn that grew dandelions, a sweet blossoming orange tree, nice lemon trees, and a truly scary black English walnut that dropped wormy nuts every October.

Nana also handed out pennies per pulled dandelion. Weeds, dirt and grass all smelled good to me so I never minded digging out the weeds. In the 1960's, that translated into 20 candy bars per 100 weeds.

One fateful winter day when I was ten or eleven, I spotted an ad in my "Weekly Reader," proclaiming that kids could make lots of extra money selling seeds to their neighbors. My Mom actually agreed to the scheme without too much fuss, and I wrote away for the seed selling kit. A month later, the mailman delivered small brown package addressed to me! It was thrilling, like Christmas and a birthday rolled into one.

Lifting out the packets one by one, I read charming names above the pretty pictures: Petunias, Candytuft, Bachelor Buttons, Marigolds, Baby's Breath, and Sweet Alyssum. Of course, I had to open a package and couldn't believe what I saw Flowers actually came from the tiniest bits of stuff, and that just seemed, if it were true, crazy miraculous. Would these little specks really grow and become alive if I planted and watered them?

They did, even though I had planted them under our clothesline in the heaviest parched clay soil imaginable. My magenta petunias, blue bachelor buttons, white baby's breath and pale yellow marigolds made me feel like Mary in The Secret Garden and it still does. Of course, I never sold any seeds and ended up having to buy them all, but what a small price for a lifetime love?

Now, of course, buying seeds is even more fun. Big glossy catalogs start appearing in the mailbox in December, and that sends me to the Internet for on-line sales.

Here are my annual winter joys: my favorite seed catalogs and websites.

1. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

In 1998, seventeen year old Jere Gettle started packaging and selling open-pollinated, non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented seeds. Thirteen years later, he has three brick and mortar stores in three states and some of best seeds around. Fabulous selection.

2. Gourmet Seed International

Great old vegetable, herbs and flower varieties from Europe, many of them organic, and they always have something interesting on sale. Pea seeds for microgreens, anyone?

3. The Maine Potato Lady

Alison may not be local, but her organic seed potato selection is consistent, disease free and delicious. Nice knowledgeable people.

4. Nichols Garden Nursery

I've had nothing but great service from this Oregon company for over twenty years. Their herbs and lettuce seeds become terrific healthy plants, and for sheer variety of color, nothing beats their calendula seeds.

5. Renee's Garden Seeds

"Set the table from the garden" is Renee Shephard's motto and her gourmet and heirloom seed varieties have definitely enhanced our summer meals. Check out her charming illustrated seed packets and helpful, detailed growing directions. Renee's home base is near my old stomping grounds in Santa Cruz, CA and I am a loyal fan.

6. Territorial Seed Company

A mammoth catalog filled with excellent flower, vegetable, and herb seeds from a company that cares about quality. Many organic varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Territorial's pea varieties are endless and they have the very best nasturtium selection anywhere.

7. Uprising Seeds

"100% Certified Organic Open Pollinated and Heirloom Seeds from the Pacific Northwest" and the owners live in Bellingham, WA. I've met and talked with Chrystine and Brian. They are completely dedicated to providing regionally grown healthy heirloom seeds from their own farm in Acme as well as from their network of family owned farms in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California. Their variety and germination rates improves every year, and their "Bees Friend" is mandatory for every vegetable and berry garden--you won't believe the army of pollinating bees you'll attract with its beautiful lavender flowers!

About the Author

Benita G. Bowen gardens, writes and cooks near Bellingham Bay on Puget Sound. Her urban farm, Tiny Tim's Garden, grows heirloom organic berries, vegetables, herbs and flowers. Visit her website www.bgbowen.com. Interested in organic gardening, cooking and sustainable living? Follow Benita on Twitter


Phil Goold is a retired landscaper of 30 years. He loves being outside more than anything else, except maybe pie. He enjoys connecting with other landscapers and gardeners because everyone brings something new and fun to the table. Connect with Phil on Twitter and Google+.

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