How to Choose from Garden Catalogs (w/Directory Listing)

(Catalog Link Directory last updated 9/22/2010)

I do it for you…

After youve ordered for a few seasons youll probably be able to narrow down your catalog mailings to a few time-honored favorites.

Photo Caption: After you’ve ordered for a few seasons you’ll probably be able to narrow down your catalog mailings to several time-honored favorites.

Alright, maybe I am addicted to seeds. They are beautiful and each little dormant embryo is ripe with an active daydream for my spring garden. But I am happy to condense my catalog experiences to help out those of you who are overwhelmed by the plentiful selection.

First, think about what you want most and start there. Most seed catalogs also offer some transplants but you might have better luck (and a fatter purse) if you buy your vegetable transplants locally to you. Big box garden centers and snooty nurseries are often expensive or only carry common varieties which may not be best suited to your region or home garden. Your best bet are specialty nurseries, farmers market plant sales, feed & seeds, and fundraiser event plant sales (for example, our Greenville Organic Food Organization often offers nice heirloom tomato transplants in the spring). Look for most of these sales in April.

Likewise, if you are looking for perennial food plants (like orchard fruit or asparagus) the above suggestions might be what you need. Some seed catalogs will carry bareroot perennials but a specialty catalog or nursery will often be better. In some cases you are paying for quality — a generalist catalog might send you tiny, fragile plants compared to a fruit nursery with 2 year old stock. But you can also find great prices and a better selection when you choose a company with a narrowed range of merchandise.

I personally like Ison’s Nursery in Georgia. Their fruit shrubs, trees, and vines are of great quality and very affordable. If you live at a higher altitude you may need to choose a nursery with growing conditions similar to your own, though many of Ison’s plants will do well anywhere on the east coast.

For the least expensive way to start your spring garden the answer is seeds.You can always use one of the above sources as a backup plan if your seed starting endeavors fail.

The diversity of available seeds can be overwhelming, so start with your favorites. Do you love tomatoes best? Herbs? Ethnic vegetables? Beans? You can order from multiple catalogs or choose from just one or two to save on postage. Most catalogs offer a variety of veggies even if their focus is on one type of food. (Tomato catalogs usually have at least one variety of cucumber, green bean, watermelon, or corn that you can pick up on the side).

Here is a directory of catalogs (I have tried nearly all of them at some point) with notes that may help you make up your mind (or make things worse if you are as curious as I am).

Local to the Southeast:

  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange – A favorite of mine, heirloom seeds of the south
  • Useful Plants Nursery – Great permaculture nursery of mostly edibles in Asheville, NC — often does deliveries in the SC area, just inquire when they’ll be near you. Worth a visit since it is located in Earthaven Ecovillage
  • Ison’s Nursery and Vineyards – Specialize in muscadine grapes, extensive selection of rabbiteye blueberries
  • Appalachian Seeds – Website only, excellent heirloom tomato selection. If you live close enough to visit, highly recommended
  • SC Foundation Seed Program, Clemson – Local passalong vegetable seeds, some hard to find
  • Heavenly Seeds – The same seeds that were offered by the SC Foundation Seed Program for years, run by the same person. Excellent open-pollinated/heirloom/organic local selection with many rare varieties. Also, sweet potato slips
  • Park Seed – This nursery is located in South Carolina but I don’t recommend it over the other catalogs listed here. Most of the varieties offered are raised elsewhere and are more oriented to commercial farming

Heirlooms & Organic:

Other Generalist Catalogs:

  • Seeds on Etsy – These are sold by small, backyard gardeners and seem to be high quality
  • Stokes – I like this one but rarely find myself ordering from it anymore. It may be good for high altitude gardeners since the varieties are more northern-oriented
  • Thompson & Morgan – The American version of this British company sometimes has rare foods I can’t find elsewhere
  • R. H. Shumway’s – A lot of people love this one but I haven’t been impressed with the quality. More commercial than the lovely line drawing illustrations let on
  • Burpee – Very commercial but lots to choose from. I’ve actually had bad germination luck with some of their newer tomatoes recently
  • The Cook’s Garden – Used to be a favorite until Burpee purchased it and changed it around
  • Jung Seeds and Plants – I feel similarly about this one as I do R. H. Shumway’s

Herbs:

  • Richters Herbs – Enormous selection of medicinal and culinary herbs with descriptions
  • Horizon Herbs – Open pollinated herb seeds, very large selection

Tomatoes:

International Seeds/Cuisine:

  • Seeds of Italy – One of the only places I order from that still sends generous packets of seed, a must if you like unusual veggies
  • Evergreen Asian Seeds – Website only. I just love amaranth greens, micro melons, and yard long beans
  • Kitazawa Seed Co. – Wonderful selection and I’ve always had high germination from their seeds
  • Gourmet Seed International – Has some unusual gourmet items available, a newer company

Perennial or other Non-Seed Food:

  • Useful Plants Nursery – Great permaculture nursery of mostly edibles in Asheville, NC — often does deliveries in the SC area, just inquire when they’ll be near you. Worth a visit since it is located in Earthaven Ecovillage
  • Ison’s Nursery and Vineyards – Specialize in muscadine grapes, excellent selection of rabbiteye blueberries
  • Ronniger’s Potato Farm LLC – This is my favorite place to order potatoes unless I get them from a generalist company
  • Raintree Nursery – Unusual fruits
  • One Green World – More unusual fruit, many of these are great for high altitude areas (and some are great for warm spots)
  • Miller Nurseries – I am less likely to order from this one because it isn’t geared to home organic gardeners
  • Plant Delights Nursery – Doesn’t sell food plants on purpose, but their ornamental section has a lot of them

Supplies:

  • Farmtek Growers Supply – This is where I get UV resistant film for polytunnels
  • Arbico Organics – I think the best medicine for organic gardens is a lot of compost but sometimes they have something I want
  • Gardens Alive – I tend to think a lot of this is snake oil but sometimes they have something I need that I can’t find locally

If you can recommend additional sources I’d love to hear about it!

*EDIT* 2/11/2010 – I had heard rumors that some of the above mentioned companies were now owned by the GMO giant Monsanto. I looked into it, and this is what I found. I decided to include it for everyone’s consideration.

Here is an excerpt from the article about Monsanto acquiring Seminis (a major seed supplier for garden catalogs):

“While voting with ones dollars can be an effective tool of change, it is also important to recognize that these are also seed catalogs that have recognized the needs of smaller organic producers, offering strong lists of regional varieties and expanding their certified organic selections. None of these companies was overjoyed with news of the acquisition, and they all seemed to be in different phases of analyzing its impact. It’s not an easy task. Seminis’ varieties account for 11 percent of Fedco Seed’s gross sales, and the numbers are much higher in categories like melons and squash.”

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

22 thoughts on “How to Choose from Garden Catalogs (w/Directory Listing)”

  1. Olga - January 29, 2010 3:18 pm

    Hey Eliza.
    I am just getting ready to order seeds, this is my favorite thing to do around this time, going through my seed box, and catalogs. Aaaah! I am having trouble finding a good company where i can get bulbs from, every year I am expanding my bulb garden, and this coming winter. I am looking for snow drops, do you know where I can get those?

    thanks for the great blog entries, Olga

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 29, 2010 3:43 pm

      I agree, this is the most fun thing about winter for me. I think you may have missed the window for the snowdrops though, most of that type of bulb is shipped in the fall. However, I’ll go ahead and recommend my favorite bulb catalog which is Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

      http://www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com/

      Reply
  2. Olga - February 2, 2010 3:24 pm

    Yeah, I am already starting to plan for next winter. I am a nerd like that. this year,i finally picked out a perfect spot for all my bulb flowers, the past two years I have been moving them around the yard, so now I have a permanent spot for them.

    Thanks for the tip on the catalog. :)

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 3, 2010 10:02 am

      Wow! I thought I got an early start sometimes. :)

      I should mention Old House Gardens too, they have neat heirlooms:
      http://www.oldhousegardens.com/

      I always go nuts for the narcissus.

      Reply
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  4. Sandra - February 10, 2010 3:37 pm

    My favorite seed catalog is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, http://www.rareseeds.com. Jere Gettle started saving seeds when he was a teenager and is now saving and selling 1,400 seeds from around the world. He’s an interesting man and has grown his company into two locations and the MO site into a tourist destination. His Heirloom Gardener magazine is well worth the modest subscription price.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 11, 2010 5:49 pm

      Thanks for the reminder about this company… I actually thought I had included it! I love their catalog but I didn’t know about the garden magazine, I’ll have to check it out. :)

      Reply
      1. Sustainahillbilly
        Twitter: appalachianfeet
        - February 11, 2010 5:50 pm

        Also, I added Baker Creek to the directory.

        Reply
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  8. Susan - March 28, 2010 2:04 pm

    Love this post [and the blog, for that matter]– I keep referencing it! We’re ordering tomato seeds in the next day or two [and forgive me for asking, if you’ve already posted on this topic]– are there any varieties that you exuberantly recommend as “must haves” for flavor and color? I know you grow gobs of them every year.

    Thanks!
    s.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 23, 2010 8:23 am

      This is a little belated, but maybe you need them again this season. ‘Jaune Flammé’ is probably my favorite, depending on which plant I’m standing in front of when you ask me. I’m nuts about ‘White Currant’ too. Here’s a link to some of my other favorites:

      http://www.appalachianfeet.com/2010/02/13/how-to-increase-a-tomato-problem-with-gratuitous-photos/
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Get Food Seeds and Plants in 2010 – 2011 =-.

      Reply
  9. Lynn - June 5, 2010 7:52 pm

    Can anyone suggest a mail order catalog that would have plants, trees, fruits & veggie plants that grow well in high-altitudes on the WEST coast? I’m in southern Calif, but at 4,500 ft, get plenty of snow & temps in single digit in winter, summer can get into 90’s, a rare 100. Where can I shop? I’m no green-thumb, just wanting to get started, want plants & trees already started, sandy soil, lots of sun, but temps can change a lot during the year. Right now, early June, 80 degrees. 2 weeks ago, we had snow! Not a lot, gone same day, but enough to stick for a couple of hours! Global warming, I guess??? Thanks for any help!

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 23, 2010 8:25 am

      Probably One Green World for your plants. Most seed catalogs will have what you need, though if you choose something like Stokes or Vermont Bean Seed you’ll know you’re buying cool weather varieties.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Get Food Seeds and Plants in 2010 – 2011 =-.

      Reply
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  13. Bill Brikiatis
    Twitter: hobby_farmer
    - August 8, 2011 9:05 am

    Like Sandra, I also like Jere Gettle’s Baker Creek. Gettle searches the world for great heirloom seeds. He has some great varieties.
    Bill Brikiatis´s last blog post ..Book Review: Jere Gettle’s The Heirloom Life Gardener

    Reply
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  15. Sawyer Larson - June 20, 2012 2:39 pm

    Well yes you are a bit addicted to seeds if i can see this whole list :)

    Reply
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