Gardeners who are interested in heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of vegetables and flowers as well as certified organic seeds have more choices than ever. The first article in this series mentioned eight small companies that deserve wider recognition. Here are nine more:
The Redwood City Seed Co: No hybrids from this California seed house, just “good-tasting, open-pollinated, heirloom varieties.” Owners Craig and Sue Dremann hawk other vegetables, but their long suit is peppers: more than 100 varieties and most hot enough to knock your socks off. Overwhelmed by the choices? Pick one of 15 pepper collections, such as Rarest Peppers, or Asian Varieties. Or World’s Hottest, capsicums certified to scorch your esophagus.
Fedco Seeds: You need not live in Maine nor be a member to order seeds from Fedco, but you’ll need to join with friends to get the large-order discount for any of its 971 vegetable, herb, and flower seeds, a crackerjack scramble of varieties that thrive where frostbite is common. Over the years this civic-minded seed cooperative has added tubers, bulbs, trees, and organic supplies to its inventory. its orders have also grown, from 98 in 1978 to more than 24,000 last year.
Select Seeds-Antique Flowers: Connecticut flower fancier Marilyn Barlow’s roll call of seeds and plants belongs to an earlier time, when flowers had fewer ruffles, frills, and outlandish colors. Hers is a bevy of nearly 300 heirlooms, including scores of flowers worth growing for redolence alone. Heliotrope ‘Marine’, a dark purple variety, attracts both butterflies and the nose. Or add sweet rocket, a favorite of Marie Antoinette, to your backyard Versailles.
B & T World Seeds: B&T is the mother lode, the largest commercial seed roster in the world and the place to find rarities. In addition to the Master Seed List of more than 35,000 different annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees, there are hundreds of subject lists, including Paving Joint Filler Plants, Fern Spore Species, and Oriental Herbs & Vegetables. A search engine for this French firm’s catalog solves the needle-in-the-hay-stack dilemma posed by its gargantuan seed trove.
Ornamental Edibles: “I feel pretty” is the theme music for this California emporium, which is jam-packed with untreated seeds for vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers that like to look – as well as taste – good. The no-frills catalog, which contrasts with its colorful wares, overflows with gorgeous edibles, including a superstar lineup of salad ingredients, such as arugula, tatsoi, pak choy, radicchio, frisee, escarole, mache, purslane, minutina, and mustard. All mix well with any of the four dozen lettuces.
T’s Flowers & Things: Teresa Daly hankers after a farm so she can grow more of her own seeds while already offering an appealing mix of tried-and-true annuals and perennial flowers, shrubs, and vines. Ms. Daly, located in the Indiana heartland, sells inexpensive plants, too, but keen gardeners will be most interested in her perennial flower seeds, some of which come with a warning that the variety is open pollinated and the grower should expect “a little variation.”
D.V. Burrell Seed Growers Co.: Colorado’s Burrell family has been growing and selling a gold mine of vegetable and flower seeds for more than a century, but its heart belongs to melons: cantaloupes, casabas, crenshaws, honeydews, muskmelons, and watermelons. Reading only a few descriptions —“flesh light emerald green, thick, juicy and tender” or “flesh thick, golden, crisp, juicy and sweet” or “flesh firm, sweet, salmon colored and thick” — suggests that one might very well live by melon alone.
Abundant Life Seeds. Devastated by fire in 2003, nonprofit Abundant Life has joined its seed business with Territorial Seed Co. Abundant Life is primarily edibles (all seeds are certified organic) while the seed and plant menu at Territorial is longer and more varied. In addition to seeds, both can supply you with ladybugs, predatory nematodes, and other natural controls to keep aphids and other pests at bay in your garden.
Sunrise Seeds: A treasure-trove of annual, biennial, and perennial flowers (and a few edibles) from this family-run Indiana seed provider, including two dozen sunflowers that will have you and the birds salivating. So will the nasturtium choices – pale yellow through orange to mahogany – and the handpicked list of morning glories — even the elusive Himalayan blue poppy. It’s a Meconopsis, not a Papaver, but don’t let botanical nomenclature keep you from adding it to your garden.
(This is the second of a three-part series.)
Karan Davis Cutler is one of eight garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin’ It. She's a former magazine editor and newspaper columnist and the author of scores of garden articles and more than a dozen books, including “Burpee - The Complete Flower Gardener” and “Herb Gardening for Dummies.” She now struggles to garden in the unyieldingly dense clay of Addison County, Vt., on the shore of Lake Champlain, where she is working on a book about gardening to attract birds and other wildlife.
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