Winter across most of the country is a time of hibernation in the garden (except you folks in the Deep South and Southwest who are counter-seasonal). All but the most diligent four-season gardeners enjoy a few weeks of reprieve around the Holidays, where we all typically cozy up with loved ones and think longingly toward warmer days. That reprieve often turns to a mad rush in the early part of a New Year as gardeners across the country scurry to plan their garden layouts and order seeds to start indoors so as to get a jump on Mother Nature.
January is our favorite month to begin thumbing through the catalogs and dreaming of exotic new fruits and vegetables to place in our plots, so to help all our growers (maybe) avoid a little bit of that madness, we’ve compiled some of our favorite seed catalogs to browse. We’ve personally used every one of the recommended catalogs with always excellent results.
Keep in mind that this list of recommendations heavily favors catalogs that specialize in heirloom, native, and rare seeds. At Greenhouse Megastore, we’re big believers in the need to shrink the food production and ornamental plant supply chain by supporting more small local growers, farmers, and producers. Heirloom and native plants are some of the best ways to help those growers. Heirloom varieties allow growers to save seed from year to year with varied levels of effort, and saving seeds allows growers to specifically breed plants with properties favorable to their specific location. Native varieties often require little or no maintenance once established. And rare seeds are, let’s be honest, just a whole lot of fun! Check out our seed catalog recommendations below and subscribe to them all now!
Baker Creek Seed Catalog
Baker Creek seeds is, hands down, my favorite place to get seeds. Just look at their mission statement and it’s not hard to see why:
At Baker Creek, our mission is to provide the seeds of a sustainable food supply for everyone and keep heirloom varieties alive for future generations. We believe that farmers, gardeners and communities have the right to save their own seed, and in so doing preserve seed diversity and food security in an age of corporate agriculture and patented, hybridized or genetically modified seeds. All the seeds we sell can be saved, shared and traded, and we encourage people to save their own seed.
I mean there’s honestly not much more to add to it, as that lines up very closely to our mission here at Greenhouse Megastore. However, I will say a little more because Baker Creek’s seed selection is second to none! They have dozens and dozens of tomato varieties to choose from, so if you’ve ever wanted to try those Purple Cherokees or the “Thomas Jefferson” tomato, they’ve got you. They’ve got strange and exotic plants (looking at you Salsify) and almost every type of plant has several different varieties to try out, many specific to locations and climate. If you tried something last year that didn’t pan out because your garden was too hot, cold, wet, or dry, chances are Baker Creek has a variety that will work for you.
Additionally, they’re just a really amazing company doing great work in both their business model and the charity that it allows. It’s all of our duty to support small businesses that are making the world a little better, and Baker Creek is definitely one of those.
Seed Savers Exchange
Seed Saver’s isn’t a normal seed catalog. Their mission really is to preserve all of the diverse heirloom varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers so that we continue to have them for future generations. They’re sort of a clearing house seed exchange; they collect seed from grower’s around the country and world and send them on to other growers who might not otherwise have the chance to obtain some of the sometimes very rare seeds they maintain.
Seed Saver’s may have an even larger selection than Baker Creek, and certainly it’s even more diverse. Availability can sometimes be an issue, since the way they collect seed sort of depends on who is growing what from year-to-year, but for all the popular plant types they usually have several variety options. I often get my sweet potato slips from Seed Saver’s because they have a wide selection that includes a couple variety’s perfect for my location.
Seed Saver’s even works with growers to save and/or “resurrect” rare seed types that are in danger of extinction. Scattered throughout their catalog you’ll see several varieties they have had a hand in saving, which is just next level.
Park is a bit of a big seed catalog, but it’s where I go if I can’t quite find what I want at Baker Creek or Seed Saver’s. Those two admittedly specialize in more obscure seed varieties, and sometimes we just want something proven and reliable. For those who might need to focus a little more on production, at least for a portion of their crop, they also have great selection of hybrids. Though you can’t save hybrid seeds with any reliability, they are bred to be consistent and resilient producers. This certainly helps the bottom line for those of us growing for a living, and helps preserve the pride of those of us who don’t.
Strictly Medicinal Seeds
The medicinal use of plants is nearly as old as humanity itself. In the days before modern medicine, plants were the medicine cabinet to which caregivers turned to cure everything from an upset stomach, to depression, to insomnia and more. Science is slowly beginning to catch up to this ancestral wisdom and identify certain compounds in a variety of plants that act beneficially, but we needn’t wait for research to specifically identify them to trust generation upon generation of primal wisdom. As such, I always make sure to plant at least 1-2 new medicinal plant varieties in my garden.
Strictly Medicinal was where I obtained my Greek Oregano, which is much, much more potent than common culinary oregano. I harvest my oregano a couple times per year, and much of it goes to a local natural healer who makes it into locally grown, organic oregano oil to put in a variety of tinctures (oregano oil is useful for a variety of ailments). I’ve also gotten Echinacea (Purple Coneflower), Valerian, Chamomile, Lemon Balm, and more, all with great success.
There are a number of ways to use these plants, from making tinctures and the aforementioned oils to using them for herbal tea. If you’ve never tried it or never thought about it before, try planting some herbal medicine this year. I guarantee you won’t regret it!
Burpee seeds can often be got in any hardware or home improvement store, but their catalog is still great and has useful information in it that will help any grower sort out what and how to grow. They also have pelletized seed that’s useful for production growers out there who rely on seeders and other equipment to sow their seeds reliably. Burpee does have heirloom varieties, but overall they are a bit more production and ease-of-use focused so you’ll see a lot more hybrids and even GMO seeds.
Depending on your goals, this might not be a bad thing. These types of seeds can give your garden a solid, successful base to build on and branch out from. Nothing is more discouraging than planning and starting a big garden only to have everything die on you (a place I have been more than I like to admit). Since heirlooms can be a bit finnicky, hybrids are a great way to score solid victories, especially for beginners. Those victories can then be the foundation to build upon, branching out to more and more exotic varieties.
(Bonus) Johnny’s Seed Co.
Johnny’s is a bit of a competitor to Greenhouse Megastore, but even still, it’s a great catalog. Personally, I just love flipping through their tools selection and dreaming of getting something to make the garden work a little easier.
Their seed selection is also great, and has a great split between heirloom varieties and the hybrids that production growers need. However, during the huge growth of gardening interest during spring of 2020 Johnny’s actually stopped selling to non-commercial customers so they could be sure their commercial producers could continue to produce food for the supply chain. Spring of 2021 promises a similar volume of interest, so just keep that in mind as your ogling that $300 broad fork.
(Bonus) Stark Bros. Nursery
Stark Bros. is my favorite place to get fruit and nut trees, and their website is pretty great too! You can select your zone and then only be shown trees that are appropriate for your location. They also work with growers to preserve and save varieties of tree that are in danger of becoming extinct, and they breed their own varieties to be even better than the heirloom varieties we all know and love.
Trees are generally shipped “bare root” (which is exactly what it sounds like) and I’ve had 100% success rate in getting them into the ground alive (after that I’m not always as successful). They even have bushes like Elderberry and Hazelnuts (Filberts), exotic and rare stuff like Paw Paws (native to my location but I’ve never seen a wild one and only had the fruit once), and so much more. If permaculture or establishing a food forest or orchard is in your plans, I highly recommend taking a look at Stark Bros.
These are my favorite catalogs to dream about spring with, but they can’t be all! Let us know in the comments below or on any of our social channels what we missed!