Buying seeds

It’s good and bad when seed catalogs show up in our mail boxes just before Christmas. The good part is they give gardeners something to do when everything outdoors is brown and gray. If you’re lucky and live where you get snow, at least it’s pretty. Here, everything is rather ugly this time of year. Even our grass is brown until April or May. Don’t believe me?

Winter potager and greenhouse; buying seeds
Winter potager and greenhouse

Still don’t?

Another view of the winter landscape in the back garden. The only green thing is that stupid Eastern redcedar that my husband insists on keeping, but that's a subject for another day.
Another view of the winter landscape in the back garden. The only green thing is that stupid Eastern redcedar that my husband insists on keeping, but that’s a subject for another day.

I get sassy in winter when there’s no sun for days on end.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program: buying seeds. The bad part? I probably don’t need to belabor it, but…. Since we gardeners are feverishly waiting for spring, our eyes can overwhelm our pocketbooks. Does anyone even say pocketbook anymore? Perhaps, not. Who cares? I always liked that word.

Anyway, before I buy one packet of new seed, I am going to inventory the seed I already have. I went positively bonkers on bulbs and corms last fall so I need to spend my kitchen garden budget wisely. For the ornamental garden, I have a lot of plants in the greenhouse, but maybe not as many as last year. The first year of the greenhouse I simply overwhelmed myself with plants. I had to keep giving them away.

Pennisetum 'Princess Caroline' (grown as an annual in OK), Vista Bubblegum Pink petunia and a grass that was supposed to be Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln' (perennial dwarf fountain grass), but isn't.  This photo was from 2011 when we had the terrible heat wave.
Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’ (grown as an annual in OK), Vista Bubblegum Pink petunia and a grass labeled Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (perennial dwarf fountain grass), but isn’t. This photo was from 2011 when we had the terrible heat wave.

I am only sad I didn’t dig up Pennisetum purpureum ‘Princess Caroline’ shown in the photo above. September was simply too hot to manhandle her, and I was too tired. I hope I find her somewhere locally. Maybe Bustani Plant Farm will carry her again this year. Maybe.

I am really scattered today. Again, back to seeds and seed buying. Here are my favorite catalogs this year. You can read about my previous fave seed catalogs too, if you want.

Franchi Seeds come in large packages, and you get a lot of seeds for your money.
Franchi Seeds come in large packages, and you get a lot of seeds for your money.

Seeds from Italy. I think I will order a few special things from Franchi before I hit publish on this post. Last year, I waited too long, and they were completely sold out. I like Franchi seeds because they have unusual and beautiful varieties of open-pollinated vegetables, herbs and flowers. Also, they are extremely generous with the number of seeds in each packet. Plus, it’s hot in Italy in the summer. It’s hot here too. ‘Nuff said.

Three views of the Chiltern Seeds catalogs. They are long and narrow this year.
Three views of the Chiltern Seeds catalogs. They are long and narrow this year.

Chiltern Seeds. My friend, Fairegarden, turned me onto Chiltern. I love them for flower seeds we can’t seem to get from companies in America. They are very generous with the number of seeds per packet too. They aren’t cheap so I alway check with a U.S. company first. One of my best foliage plants ordered from Chilterns was Amaranthus tricolor ‘Tricolour splendens perfecta.’ I guess the amaranths are in a taxonomy change again, but I’m going with the name I bought it under. I’ll also be buying Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime.’ I see that Chilterns has some wonderful selections of Chinese vegetables this year. Pretty exciting stuff and a very serious catalog. The Brits all use botanical names so be ready to do some searching online for the common name too. One more thing I like about European gardeners, they call eggplants aubergine. It’s a prettier name for that gorgeous and great tasting vegetable. Also, if you haven’t tried pak choy (bok choy) yet, you should. It’s delicious.

Cover of the Rare Seeds catalog from Baker Creek.
Cover of the Rare Seeds catalog from Baker Creek.

For real reading pleasure, try the Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This is more book than catalog. You can order it online, and I’ve seen it various places around town. I know our Natural Grocers carry it. They also carry Baker Creek’s magazine, Heirloom Gardener, which publishes four issues per year, I think. I’ve been very impressed with the last couple of issues of Heirloom Gardener because their topics are far-ranging and more than how-to articles. I’m grateful for the history lessons. I bought the winter issue off of the newsstand last week. Baker Creek also has a smaller catalog if you don’t want the larger one. Of course, any seeds from Baker Creek are open-pollinated heirlooms. They don’t carry hybrids.

Lumpy Red tomato
‘Lumpy Red’ tomato, an indeterminate heirloom that made beautiful lumpy tomatoes all summer.

Hybrids are not necessarily a bad thing. Lately, they’ve gotten a bad rap because people confuse them with GMOs. Hybrid seeds and plants are not genetically modified organisms. Hybrids are natural, controlled crosses of plants. Sometimes, especially with some tomatoes in the South, it’s a good idea to look for hybrids with built-in disease resistance, heat tolerance and resistance to pathogens like root knot nematodes. However, many heirloom tomatoes also perform well in my garden, and they have more complex flavor notes than some hybrids. Because I never know what kind of summer I’m going to have, I grow both heirlooms and hybrid varieties selected for the South. Here are some of my recent tomato selections. ‘Marianna’s Peace,’ ‘Black Krim,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Beefmaster’ and ‘Lumpy Red’ all grow well in my climate. I talk about my favorite black Russian tomatoes here. If that’s not enough to whet your appetite for starting your own tomatoes from seed, here’s another tomato post. I haven’t decided what tomatoes I’m starting from seed this year, but I need to decide soon.

Part of my potager, summer 2010.
Part of my potager, summer 2010.

I explain more about hybrids, GMOs and heirloom plants in my book, The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff.

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide, by Dee Nash
The 20-30 Something Garden Guide.

Also, when buying seed, consider where the seeds are grown and harvested. I noticed on Baker Creek’s website that they now have a William Woys Weaver collection of open-pollinated heirloom seeds collected by Weaver as part of The Roughwood Seed Collection. I like his recent article on zinnias. You know how much I love zinnias in my garden. Weaver is a seedsman and food historian from Devon, PA, and he is also a contributing editor to Mother Earth News. The seed collection started with some baby food jars containing seed his grandfather and friends collected, saved, labeled and grew. Weaver found this treasure at the bottom of a freezer when helping his grandmother clean house. If you read the seed descriptions, much it was collected in the Mid-Atlantic and eastern parts of the U.S. If you live in an area where summers are traditionally cool, this would be a great seed collection to peruse. However, just because you live where summers are hot doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grow from this collection. I just wouldn’t stake my whole garden on it.

Open-pollinated, heirloom seeds that are grown, selected and saved in a particular area become more attuned to the conditions and challenges in that part of the country. If you buy heirloom seeds from a different climate and then grow them over a period of years in yours, selecting seeds from the plants that perform best in your garden, you are creating heirlooms selected for your conditions in your part of the country. Does that make sense? It’s the process of natural selection. That’s why heirlooms saved over many generations are as rare and precious as rubies.

Of course, saving seeds from hybrids is pointless because you don’t know what you’ll get. I usually buy starter plants from Bonnie Plants when I’m going to grow a hybrid tomato, pepper or eggplant. As you can see from this map, some Bonnie Plants are grown in my state, and they perform extraordinarily well here. Bonnie Plants also stocks some of the more familiar heirloom plants. Plus, locally, TLC Nursery is now stocking heirloom vegetable plants from a local farm. Sunrise Acres also stocks organic starter plants at the Oklahoma City Farmer’s Market. I can’t possibly grow everything I want to from seed so I save my seed starting for plants I really want to try which I can’t find anywhere else.

The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog is still free.
The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog is still free.

For seeds more attuned to my climate, I turn to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I have great luck each year with their seed varieties. I am going to grow ‘Alabama Blue’ collards this spring. I’ll let you know how it goes. I think I will also read Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig Lehoullier. He gardens in North Carolina and ‘Cherokee Purple,’ which he introduced years ago, is one of my best performers every year.

I also like Johhny’s Selected Seeds although they aren’t located anywhere near my region. I do buy cold-weather crops from them including beets, turnips, winter lettuce, kale and spinach. I laugh, though, when I read about summer lettuce. Like, what is that? I’m kidding. I know gardeners in cooler climates can grow some lettuces all summer. Alas, lettuce, in Oklahoma and Texas, is grown in spring, late fall and then held over in winter in a cold frame. I really enjoyed ‘Drunken Woman Frizzy-Headed’ lettuce last year. Although a butterhead variety, along its stems, it had the crunch of an iceberg. Very prolific and delicious.

Cover of 2015 Botanical Interests Seed Catalog.
Cover of 2015 Botanical Interests Seed Catalog, one of my favorite companies.

I can’t forget Botanical Interests Seeds either. They have beautiful flower and vegetable varieties, and the company is owned and run by such good people. Also, their seed packets are full of useful information. In fact, I profiled one of their seed packets in my book. Oh, and Territorial Seed Company is another favorite. I’ve bought from them for years. See how hard it is to choose?

This post is longer than I expected, and I’ve bought a few more packets of seed as I wrote it. Such is life. Now, please tell me which seed companies you buy from most often and why. We can all learn from each other in this garden journey. I’d also love to hear of one new vegetable, herb or flower you’re trying from seed in 2015. I’m trying parsnips, but probably in the fall.


  1. I do love it when the seed catalogs arrive. I am so jealous you have the option of a greenhouse…This is something I am planning for this year or next.

  2. Hi Dee! I just moved from southern California to Tulsa, OK and facebook friends recommended your blog to help me learn about gardening here in a new zone for me. I brought my “Seed Chest” with me and can’t wait for the weather to warm up and experiment to see what varieties I’m used to growing that will/will not do well here in Oklahoma. I usually buy my seeds from Botanical Interests, Renees Garden, Seeds of Change and Baker’s Creek. I guess I need advantage of this opportunity to check out some new catalogs and treat myself to some more seeds 😉

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Cynthia, Welcome to Oklahoma! Oh, how I love Tulsa. You can grow things there that other Oklahomans only dream of. It’s a great climate for this state. However, it’s very different from California. I’m so glad you stopped by and wrote to say you were here. I’m speaking at the Tulsa Botanic Garden on April 4. I hope to see you and your friends there. Happy planting!~~Dee

  3. Rose says:

    I have so many seeds left from last year, I’m trying not to order so many this year. But I may have to check out ‘Drunken Woman Frizzy-Headed’ lettuce–that would make me smile every time I work in the vegetable garden:)

  4. Valerie says:

    Oh I can’t wait for Spring. I have so much planting to do this year.

  5. Kacky says:

    I tried the Italian seeds year before last- it was neat- I had a bunch of things you don’t normally see here that I tried out just for fun- they did alright- I admit I neglected them a bit…. Last year we did starts and had a little bit better luck though we also had rain…. this year I am pumped up and ready and planned out and hopefully will be successful. Half the battle is the planning…. at least for me. ha. I have always had great luck with tomatoes so I plant them pretty heavily- every variety I can get my hands on though I have had the best luck with the Sweet 100’s. Good luck- look forward to reading about your progress.

  6. Les says:

    I just finished the seed buying process at work, and I used several of the same companies as you. I especially like giving my business to Baker Creek, and this was the first year we used Southern Exposure. Considering the latter is located in my home state, I should use them more often. My other favorite is Swallowtail. They have many unusual plants, especially flowers, not so much in vegetables, and their prices are as reasonable as Baker Creek.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Les for reminding me of Swallowtail. I hadn’t thought of them in years. I think they have wonderful seeds too. Happy Spring!

  7. Christina says:

    I completely am overwhelmed with all the seed catalogs this year! It seems like they all came at once! I was hoping you could point me in the right direction on Dahilias. Have you had success with them? Is there a local vendor in OKC you like?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Christina, I wouldn’t buy my dahlias locally. They aren’t grown locally and by the time they are shipped to Oklahoma and sit in the stores, well….let’s just say it’s not pretty. They are often dried up and don’t perform well. I buy most of my dahlias from Old House Gardens and here is their dahlia page, Go for the small-flowered ones, or those that perform better in hotter conditions. I think Scott from OHG wrote a piece, or someone else did. Also, scour my search box for dahlia posts. I’ve done several on summer bulbs. HTH!

  8. spooons says:

    I love all of these companies! Another great resource is Garden Hoard (.com) – they grow their own heirloom seeds, hand harvest, hand clean, and hand package everything. They get mentioned a lot for the annual Free SASE Seeds section, which is a great way to get started with gardening – free seeds! Check them out. Family owned, family operated, midwest heirloom seed business 🙂 I can’t wait to get our Tomatoes in this year, lots of new varieties to try out – and of course my super sweet (for homemade paprika) and super hot (for my infused vodka) peppers!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you! I’ve never heard of Garden Hoard. I will definitely go check them out.

  9. I usually buy locally (PA) so now I’m anxious to try Weaver’s zinnias — thanks for the info. Dee. They would have prospered here last year with the cool summer — hoping for good conditions this year. I’m a gardener, so I’m always full of hope. P. x

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Pam, I thought Weaver’s collection looked really good. I’m always up for some zinnias in the garden. They delight me and the bees.

  10. _emily_rose says:

    I’m still a garden newbie, but I have my mom’s Park’s Seed Starting book, and I’ve bought seeds from them this year and last year. The book is *very* helpful in pairing seeds in greenhouses, and knowing exactly what conditions they need for germination. They have yellow and pink perennial foxgloves that I’m anxious to see if they live up to their name. The pink ones started well last year, so I’ve added the yellow to my collection for this year!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Emily and welcome. There is nothing quite like gardening. It’s an adventure every year. Have a wonderful spring!

  11. I love hearing where everyone shops for seeds. I’ve purchased seeds from Seed Savers in Iowa for several years and I enjoy the catalog and stories how they found the seeds. I laughed when you wrote about all the plants you grew the first year you had your greenhouse. I did the same thing. I couldn’t even give them all away! That year I had ordered from Harris Seeds. Their main target is for big growers but they also sell smaller packets for home gardeners. But why buy a small packet of 50 seeds when you can buy 500 seeds for just a little more?!? I was way out of control that year. They do have a huge inventory of unique flowers and everything I’ve gotten there has germinated nicely.

    1. oh, and Prairie Moon Nursery carries native plants and seeds and a great how -to section on different methods of starting seeds. I’ve gotten both plants and seeds and been very satisfied with both.

      1. Dee Nash says:

        I want to visit Prairie Moon someday.

        1. Me, too. I would probably have to rent a trailer before heading home, though.

          1. Dee Nash says:

            Chuckle. I so get that.

    2. Dee Nash says:

      Brenda, that makes me feel so much better about the greenhouse! I gave away dozens of tomato and coleus plants, and then I planted 40 tomato plants in my garden. That was super crazy. I had tomatoes running out my ears, and I was also busy promoting my book. What in the world was I thinking? I like Seed Savers and Harris too. I’ve bought from both of them.

  12. Many of those catalogs look familiar. They’re so entertaining to view and read. 🙂 I’ve come to appreciate the snow a little more over the years. As long as we don’t have too much. This winter has been very pleasant here in Wisconsin. Just enough snow to brighten things up without hampering travel and safety too much. You must be having so much fun with your greenhouse. Enjoy!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Beth, I do love the greenhouse. It was amazing last year when we had such a hard winter. This winter has been relatively mild, but we need more rain. Always. Glad to hear Wisconsin is having a good winter too.

  13. Nell Jean says:

    Tell your sweet husband that recent winds blew a big red cedar down on our Farmer Danny’s boat. Wind loves those big junipers.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I wish the two left on our property that I see all the time would blown down. Sometimes, I fantasize about chainsaws.

  14. Susan Staudt says:

    I pulled out my well-loved pile of current seed catalogs: John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, The Cook’s Garden, Baker Creek, Select Seeds, Territorial Seed Company, and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Looking forward to making new seed friends. 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Susan, I can’t wait to see your garden this spring and summer. Viva la veggies!

  15. fairegarden says:

    This post really whetted my seed growing appetite, Dee! I am glad you enjoy Chiltern’s, they do have some very unusual offerings. I am also glad Phillip mentioned Sow True Seeds, located in Asheville, North Carolina. They were a sponsor of the blogger fling there and offered tours of their facility. Like so many other seeds companies, good folks.

  16. Jeanette says:

    Great article on heirloom seeds for this area. I will have to pick up your book. Agreed, it is an enjoyable activity to browse the catalogs this time of year. We will be trying several new plants from Botanical Interest.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Jeanette and welcome! Yes, I will be buying from BI too.

  17. Christina says:

    yummmmmmmmmmm, i’m so excited for planting! Yippie!

  18. Phillip says:

    I just placed a seed order a few days ago from Southern Exposure. I had good luck with their seeds last year. Like you said, I try and order from companies in my region. Baker Creek is great too. I was thinking about trying Sow True Seeds (I believe they are in North Carolina). I have never ordered seeds from outside the country.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Phillip! Lovely to see you. Yes, I’ve bought from Sow True Seeds. They were very good for me. There are so many seed companies. It is a very competitive business. Ordering from Chiltern’s is easy. Franchi has an American branch, I think. Both companies ship quickly. I was afraid to buy overseas until I fell in love with hyacinth vases. That got me over the hump. I figure if they can ship glass unbroken, the seeds will be fine too.

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