Favorite Seed and Plant Mail Order Sources: From our GGW Contributors

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

It’s that time of year again when the frenzy of purchasing seeds from catalogs and the pondering about what plants to order from mail-order catalogs grab our attention. So, I asked each of our Regular Contributors at GGW to offer up their ‘best of the best’  sources. Below is the GGW list.

Nan Ondra, always offering great resources, listed 9 seed catalogs. She is the doyenne of seed propagation as I can attest to!!

pinetree-seed-packet“I don’t think I’ve ever run across a seed catalog that I didn’t like. But if I had to choose just one mail-order company to do business with, it would be Pinetree Garden Seeds. The catalog isn’t fancy, but they have an amazing selection of both ornamentals and edibles: new introductions, heirlooms, common favorites, and out-of-the-ordinary curiosities. Best of all, the prices almost always beat those of other seed companies. Most of the packets are in the $1.00 – $2.00 range – a welcome relief from the $3.00 to $5.00 packets of some companies – yet they still include plenty of seed for a home garden. Pinetree also sells a wide variety of gardening (and soap- and paper-making) supplies, also at good prices, and they offer some great book deals too. Nice customer service folks, as well!

territorial-seed-packetTerritorial Seed Company has slightly higher prices, but the packets are still reasonable, and I always find some must-haves, particularly in their vegetable listings. Their catalog also has detailed sowing and growing info for the veggies, making it a valuable reference.

Seed Savers Exchange, of course, is great for heirloom veggies and flowers. I especially like that they include seed-saving tips on each packet.

Select Seeds, too, produces a beautiful catalog with plants and seeds of wonderful old-fashioned flowers.

One new online source I tried this year is Summer Hill Seeds. They caught my eye because they offered seed of the variegated-leaf tomato I forgot to save last year. They offer many other cool foliage gems that you can grow from seed, as well as an intriguing selection of other annuals, perennials, and vines. They were very generous with bonus packets, too!

chiltern-catalogWhen I’m looking for seeds of unusual perennials, my three favorites are Chiltern Seeds  – which really has just about anything you could want, though it’s a little expensive; Plant World Seeds – all kinds of tempting offerings with reasonable prices and shipping; and Gardens North – a thrilling selection of hardy herbaceous and woody plants.

hps-mag-seed-packetOne final seed source I can’t neglect to mention is the seed exchange program of the Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group. The 2008-2009 catalog marked the 15th year of the exchange, and it gets better every year. This one included over 1,000 seed donations from 65 gardeners. Many of these HPS-ers are crazed plant fanatics that go to any lengths to get new or rare plants and then are generous enough to share with the exchange, so you can often find seeds of plants that aren’t even in the trade yet. Notable nurseries and botanical gardens, such as North Creek Nurseries, Plant Delights, Seneca Hill Perennials, the Scott Arboretum, and Wave Hill donate their favorites too. No matter where you live, it’s worth joining HPS/MAG just to get access to the seed exchange program, and there are lots of other benefits for members in the mid-Atlantic area. For membership information, check out the HPS/MAG website.”

Steve Silk counts these plant and bulb catalogues as his favorites:

hardcopy262-forest-farm-catalogueForestfarm is great not just for its absolutely vast inventory of woody plants, but for the small sizes it makes available. “Who wants a teeny tree or shrub?” you might ask, but buying those little rooted twiglets–so small shipping charges are rock bottom–has enabled me to experiment with all kinds of woody plants I may never otherwise have acquired. Many I’ve purchased just on a whim. Some have proved to be real winners in the garden, like my Magnolia officinalis, now 25 feet tall, or my golden full moon Japanese maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’) a unusually pricey plant I picked up at Forest farm for $15.

My favorite source for bulbs, tubers and the like is Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. This Virginia pair come for a long line of bulb growers, and offer a great selection of just about anything I’m interested in from tulips to tropicals. Their catalog is full of good design ideas and tips for using bulbs.

It’s always a challenge to find a good mail-order source for the annuals, tender perennials and tropicals which perk up my garden season after season. My current favorite is Cottage Garden, where they offer good-sized, exceptionally well rooted plants, good prices and reasonable shipping. Oh, and a vast range of plants.”

This is what Saxon Holt had to say:

“I very, very rarely use mail order and use local nursery sources for all my seeds and most plants. The only time I can ever recall getting seeds was from Larner Seeds which carries CA native grass and wildflower seeds. I order from them because I know the seeds are CA sourced and don’t trust other seed providers. I do like the seeds from Renee’s Garden but they are available in most nurseries, and when I am ready to plant my veggies I want my seeds that day. Ordering seeds requires too much fore thought and I think that because I garden in CA I do not spend much time poring over seed catalogs they way I think some gardeners must do elsewhere.

mainpage222_041Same with ordering mail order plants, with the big exception of bulbs. I order lots of bulbs mostly from Brent and Becky. I prefer them because I know them as friends, they are long-time and genuine supporters of Garden Writers, and they run a very efficient operation with healthy bulbs delivered on time for my region. I do also order bulbs occasionally from John Scheepers,  if Brent and Becky does not carry something or if the quantity discounts are better. The only place I order plants from is ForestFarm in Oregon. They have unusual plants which are hard to buy and hard to afford when the are found in retail nurseries. ForestFarm always arrives well packed and healthy. 

Adam Woodruff had this to say about his best of the best:

Cottage Gardens, Piasa, Illinois is a retail nursery I love, they do offer mail order service. Specialty: plants that really work in hot and humid summer climates and cold winters. Web site features unique plants and great ideas how to use them in containers and beds. Offer a large selection of plants from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plants of Merit program (www.plantsofmerit.org).

spring2009cover_3001Plant Delights Nursery Raleigh, North Carolina, “The home of Plants with Attitude” mail order firm specializing in unusual perennials (some tender perennials).  Online catalog features over 1000 different perennials, including a wide variety of US natives. I met Tony Avent at a talk in St. Louis- outstanding speaker, horticulturalist. Huge assortment, great print and online catalogs.

Annie’s Annuals, Richmond, California. Rare, unusual annuals and perennial plants, including cottage garden heirlooms and hard to find California native wildflowers.  Great selection of Amaranthus!

Digging Dog Nursery, Albion, California.  Family run mail order plant nursery.  I have purchased hard to find items Inula magnifica, Kniphofia cultivars, etc.  Good quality!”

My own favorites:

I’m a sucker for catalogues with beautful, mouth watering photos. When I began receiving Seeds Of Change catalogue years ago, I initially was intrigued with it because it offered organic seeds. But over time, I order more than I need more seeds than I need from them every year. Their variety and quality is excellent.

I also am a big fan of sweet peas, heirloom and antique flowers. Once I came across Select Seeds, I became obsessed with trying as many sweet pea and poppy varieties that were offered. Several of their poppies are listed as rare. As I recall, they were one of the first mail order catalogues to offer ‘Lauren’s Grape’ poppy seeds.

I’ve mentioned High Country Gardens several times on GGW over the past year and a half.  David Salman has worked endlessly to offer up a huge variety of southwestern plants, several of which can thrive in colder climates. He also sells a wonderful variety of waterwise and xericscape perennials and shares his expertise about how to use them wisely. His agastache selections are the best I’ve come actoss.  His plants aren’t cheap but the quality is excellent.  A disclaimer needs to be made by me concerning High Country Gardens. David Salman has been a Guest Contributor on GGW in the past. But in no way does his posting here, the few times that he has, colored my opinion.

Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery is known for its array of hard to find rock garden plants and dwarf specimens. For example, this is what they write about a berberis:

Berberis x stenophylla ‘Corallina Compacta’, Hybrid Barberry Berberidaceae 18 in. x 18 in. Deep green, toothed leaves densely clothe the short, arching branches of this dwarf evergreen Barberry. Coral-red buds burst into clusters of bright orange flowers in May. Hardy to Zone 5. $12.00.

The descriptions and colored photos will make you want to purchase at least a few plants that you’ve never tried and whose name you’ve never heard of. Quality is excellent.

ddcover-20091I, like Adam, am a big fan of Digging Dog Nursery. I’ve used them for years, especially for their selection of salvias and euphorbias. They have never failed me. Excellent quality plants and prompt service.

When I’m in the market for a ‘hard to find’ tree or shrub and don’t want to spend big bucks on buying large specimens at specialized nurseries, I turn to Greer Gardens and Gossler Farms. It’s such fun to peruse through their catalogues, making note of every tree or shrub that I think I have to buy. Although not inexpensive, they’re both fairly priced and even more than moderately priced if you take time to select wisely. I ‘ve been able to buy my robinias, laburnums, magnolia sp., Davidia involucrata, Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ and pterostyrax from them without having to search them out at nurseries in my area. Depending on where you live, shipping costs can add up: so take that into consideration when calculating the costs.

So, now it’s your turn. Let us know all of your ‘best of the best’ seed and mail order plant catalogues. It’s still not too late to get some terrific or unusual seeds or plants from newly discovered sources!

Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

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Nicole March 4, 2009, 10:29 pm

I agree with many of the recommendations and also must try some of those which I haven’t. I have found Kitazawa seeds outstanding in their service and quality for Asian and specialty herbs and vegetables. JL Hudson has great germination for all those rare tropical and mild climate seeds-including trees, agaves, yucca. I also like Botanical Interests-their packets are lovely and informative and almost all their seeds are “easy” so they are perfect for the beginner or those who have a limited time to invest in seed starting.

Nicole-
Thanks for your sources. I don’t think any of them, Kitawaza Seeds, JL Hudson and Botanical Interests, were mentioned by our contributors. I love tha JL Hudson offers mild climate and and rare tropical seeds. Your point is well taken about most of their seeds being ‘easy’ to germinate. How much less frustrated so many of us seed lovers would be if we reminded ourselves of the importance of that! Fran

Shirley Bovshow "EdenMaker" March 5, 2009, 4:01 am

Count me in for Baker Heirloom seeds. I get a favorable germination rate and I like their varieties. Beautiful packaging as well. I laminate the packages and use them as plant markers.
Shirley

Shirley-
Always good to hear from other gardeners about their favorite seed companies. It helps to ferret out which sources someone might want to try out. Terrific idea about laminating seed packets to use as plant markers. Do you have favorites when ordering from them? Fran

Frank March 5, 2009, 6:26 pm

Wonderful seed companies all. And the majority of those listed are little guys specializing in the rare and unusual. I feel like it’s not what company you buy from, it’s how many. Don’t buy everything from one of the behemoths, rather, spread the wealth among the little guys, and keep the garden diverse and unique.

Frank-
Great comment on reminding us all to spread our orders around and support some of the smaller, quality seed (and plant) mail order companies. You have a great website with a different perspective than most of us ‘gardener’s. I love your lead article on Investigating Crop Circles. What a great photo! I hope some of our readers take the time to check out. Fran

Frances March 6, 2009, 6:37 am

I cast my lot with Forestfarm too. Affordable small sizes with unbelievable selection. Brent and Becky’s is great, I also use Van Engelen, Scheepers big brother for larger quantities. Chiltern’s, Baker Creek, Seed Savers, yes yes yes. I like to spread the wealth and will try some of the places listed too. Thanks, guys!
Frances

Frances-
Always great to hear from you. Am not surprised that you concur with some of our ‘faves’ and that you like to spread the wealth as well. Have a great weekend!! Fran

Paula March 6, 2009, 7:57 pm

I really enjoy Southern Exposure Seed Exchange! Located near Monticello, they specialize in seeds particularly well suited to the MidAtlantic region, which is basically zones 5, 6 & 7. They have heirloom vegetable and flower seeds and online information.

Paula-
Thanks for another source yet untapped here. Fran

Saxon Holt March 7, 2009, 2:50 pm

Jeez – Y’alls comments only validated what I said – that I buy from local sources and not mail order. I can shop at Annie’s Annuals and Digging Dog just by jumping in the car….

Saxon-
Aren’t you the lucky one? I always felt that besides its beauty that there were several other advantages to living in California….

jodi (bloomingwriter) March 8, 2009, 11:00 pm

My head is whirling from all the options, but of course I burst out laughing at Tony Avent’s latest masterpiece. Brilliant on sooooo many levels. Thanks for sharing all these, even though most of them won’t ship to Canada and I don’t have time to grow much of anything from seed these days….

Jodi-
Could you pass on the link that Tony wrote so that we can all have a good laugh as well??? Thanks for your thoughts! Fran

Sweet Bay March 9, 2009, 10:51 am

Great list. I love Seeds of Change and Select Seeds as well. I want to add a recommendation of Niche Gardens and Sunlight Gardens as mail–order nurseries. They have wonderfully written catalogs and sell beautiful plants, with a very nice selection of natives.

Sweet Bay-
Thanks for the other offerings. Am familiar with Niche Gardens and agree that they are worth checking into. Sunlight Gardens??
Have never heard of but will certainly check out now that you’ve recommended it. Fran