Seed catalogs


Might just have to have it: Yugoslavian Red lettuce from Cook’s Garden

It’s so flattering. I feel positively courted at this time of year! Nope; I don’t have a line of suitors lining up at the back door…and if I did, I think my husband would have something to say about it. It’s those danged seed catalogs.

These things arrive, and I get this uncomfortable feeling: I am being sucked up to. These catalogs? They’re auditioning! “Look at OUR Lolla Rossa lettuce!” “THIS sweet pea is meant for YOUR garden!” “Unfailing yields from THIS Amish Paste tomato!” And on and on.

I will say that this year (so far) Cook’s has the most delectable photographs. I try hard to see signs of blight or bugs and I see none: the pictures are well composed and expensively printed. Some catalogs, like Fedco, don’t even have pictures: considering I buy the most from this outfit, maybe I am more swayed to part with my seed money by the sheer power of words alone. And if I remember correctly, it was Johnny’s that came the latest last year, and in so doing, I gazed at it (lovingly) with the freshest eyes. Now? Now I am blind, there are so many catalogs vying for my attention.

Seriously, somebody needs to do a survey to figure out the efficacy of these catalogs. Which is better? Early, or late arrivals? Writing or photographs? Down-home aw-shucks or erudite Latinisms? What?

Either way, these danged catalogs keep coming. Like most marketing ploys, I am usually not swayed. But then again, I am a complete sucker when it comes to my veg garden, so…flatter me~!

14 responses to “Seed catalogs

  1. This year I’m going with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a small company that focuses only on open pollinated varieties and strongly encourages seed saving on the gardener/farmer end of things. A lot of the varieties are suited for the rigors of growing in the South, but some of their stuff might work for where you are.

  2. Trace, you’re in a lucky position in NC of being able to order from nearly everyone. But you’re right: going with what’s best for your area is what’s, well, best. I know people who swear by Southern Exposure, which is why I listed it as a source in my seeds tab above. I just wish *sigh* that I had a Michigan source for seed. This year, I am really trying hard to buy seed from places that grow the seed. It’s hard! So Fedco and Victory Seed ( and Amishland Seeds (, run by a woman in PA, are getting really hard looks from me before I buy.

  3. We use the pretty ones to narrow it down, then order from Fedco. Those group discounts have a lot to do with it, though. We’re talking 30% off!!

    Did you notice that Cook’s was bought by Burpee? Humbug. I also miss the old Cook’s catalog with the Mary Azarian woodcuts.

  4. I’m a big fan of Fedco, because I like their politics and policies, (and the people who write the catalog text could sell fur coats in hell) although I have received mislabeled plants from them in the past. I LOVE the tree sale, it is great to be there picking up trees and plants with like-minded folks in the spring. I have to have my Sungold cherry tomatoes though, which necessitates another supplier.

    Johnny’s is also a great resource, and is now an employee-owned company, which is cool. I know the seeds I get from Johnny’s and Fedco will work in my garden, as will the seeds from Pine Tree Seeds, which come in smaller packages thus allowing me to try more things.

    I love the seed catalogs, and feel no guilt over seed lust.

  5. Liz: Say it isn’t so! These big houses taking over small houses: I suppose the Ogdens want to retire rich is all, but I really was swayed by the beauty of that particular lettuce. And I do envy you Mainers your seedhouses.

    Ali: I know what you mean about Fedco. I am a huge fan, BUT they sent me a double order of potatoes last year. Yes I did not get charged for the 2nd one, but…that is a lot of spuds that I somehow had to find a place for. And I have had some minor germination issues with some Fedco stuff, but it is nothing like the other houses I’ve bought from, like those idiots at Baker Creek: I’ve gotten mislabeled seeds, three seeds in one batch, nongerminating seeds, the whole ball of wax from that company. Johnny’s, though, I just plain love. Their catalog isn’t deep enough in the few things I am passionate about, like beans, so I must resort to other places.

  6. I’m sending you chili pepper seeds; got your address!
    (I love that my last name is Morse; alas, not related to Ferry-Morse.)

  7. I just figured it out when I got the Cook’s & Burpee catalogs on the same day: same hometown, same George Ball in front. Boo!

    The only problem I have with Fedco is with seed quality sometimes. Like the marjoram that was thyme. Whoops! I forgive them because I love them and have I mentioned the good prices? 😉

    Hey Ali, Fedco has Sungold seed. And if you go to the tree sale, you can always get rare and unusual seedlings from the lovely Amy LeBlanc.

  8. Wow I’m surprised you had problems with Baker Creek – I’ve had great luck with them. Was I just holding my tongue right?

    I ordered from Johnny’s last year and really liked them. And I appreciate how much info in is their catalog too.

  9. CC: Oy! Thanks for the reminder! I have packages for you and Liz and Meredith.

    Liz: I kind of thought something was up when it arrived so nice and shiny. Like you guys, I just use these pretty-picture catalogs (of which there are legions) to research what I am going to buy…from Fedco, mostly. Actually, today, I am still looking to Harvest Moon and Victory Gardens to flesh out the Johnny’s and Fedco orders. And jealous is what I am of your big cooperative purchases! I don’t know any gardeners, except online!

    Rurality: I know, it’s such a drag! I hope they’ve gotten their act together, but I won’t be sending them money to find out. My bitching is about seed I purchased from them in ’04 and ’05. The tomato thing really pissed me off, frankly: I got Roma tomatoes in 2 colors and 3 shapes in the same package of seeds. That is NOT normal variation, even among heirlooms. And so many of my melon and squash seeds had piss-poor germination rates: cucurbits are just about the EASIEST thing to sprout, I knew something was up! But my cowpeas were great from them. I do love Johnny’s, especially regarding the information. Compared to Baker Creek, especially: I believe their total directions for cultivating cowpeas was “plant like beans.” Pole beans? Soybeans? Bush beans? Lima beans?

  10. Johnny’s does have great cultural info — so good that Dan used their catalog to make laminated gardening flash cards for our budding young gardener, his son Kyle.

    Liz, I thought Fedco dropped Sungolds last year? I’ll have to look. I have purchased very cool plants from Amy LeBlanc in the past, and no doubt will again. I’m counting the days….

  11. I’ve always called seed catalogs gardenporn! So much that I grabbed, but I haven’t done anything with it. I love gardenporn season!

  12. What a spectacular picture of lettuce. Who wouldn’t want to find that growing in their garden?! I’m not in a position to grow any veggies right now, but I personally am swayed by the photos. Then I can scan it easily for things that appeal and then hone in on the written descriptions. But, like Lisa said, it is garden porn, so, are we more verbal or visual with our porn?

  13. I grew the Yugo red last year, sucked in by the picture, as with so many other lettuces. Lettuces are definitely my downfall, as the next is more beautiful than the last. I really liked it and would definitely grow it again, except that I used all my seed last year and have about a zillion different varieties left to grow this year.

    Being in Maryland, I do the bulk of my ordering from Southern Exposure, filling in with Johnny’s.

    I’m enjoying reading through your blog and just added it to my blogroll.

    Happy seed dreaming!

  14. Ali: Okay you’ve gotten my interest raised regarding these Sungolds. (What is this of which she speaks, the voice in my head says.) And of course our long winters make these seed catalogs and tree catalogs more and more…desired, certainly. But I love the flashcard idea.

    Lisa: Hah! I wonder if our porn would pass the Justice Stewart sniff test of “but I know it when I see it.” I am not sure how universal the appeal of the above lettuce is, say, if I took a picture of it with me to my mall. Would most people say it was porn? Nah! You have to dig a lot of dirt before you can call it that.

    Bri: I know, like I said, I buy from an outfit that doesn’t have pictures of the plants from which their seeds come…but descriptions, as Ali so rightly called them, written by folks who could sell fur coats in hell. It is pretty, certainly!

    Danielle: Great, I now know this lettuce is yummy too. I think what gets me going is how the colors’re so intense. I am not sure how far along your greenhouse is, but the colors of a couple of lettuces I have in mine (Rouge d’Hiver and Red Sails, as well as the chards and beets) are so very intense after all that somewhat cold exposure. It’s all I can do to NOT eat them all, and then go hungry the rest of the winter.

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