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!!
“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 . 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!
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.
, of course, is great for heirloom veggies and flowers. I especially like that they include seed-saving tips on each packet.
, too, produces a beautiful catalog with plants and seeds of wonderful old-fashioned flowers.
One new online source I tried this year is . 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!
When I’m looking for seeds of unusual perennials, my three favorites are – which really has just about anything you could want, though it’s a little expensive; – all kinds of tempting offerings with reasonable prices and shipping; and – a thrilling selection of hardy herbaceous and woody plants.
One 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 .”
Steve Silk counts these plant and bulb catalogues as his favorites:
“ 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 . 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 , 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 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 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.
Same with ordering mail order plants, with the big exception of bulbs. I order lots of bulbs mostly from . 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 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:
, 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 ().
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.
, Richmond, California. Rare, unusual annuals and perennial plants, including cottage garden heirlooms and hard to find California native wildflowers. Great selection of Amaranthus!
, 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 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 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 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.
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.
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 and . 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!