When I was little I looked forward to the day the Burpee Seeds catalog would arrive in the mail. We didn’t have a vegetable patch and I didn’t even like vegetables back then, but there was something about me that wanted to grow my own food. Each year, I have looked at this catalog and I have planted the garden of my dreams.
Since then, I have managed many years of vegetable farming, but that feeling of excitement and anticipation has never faded. Every year I am always impatient, eager to see what new seed catalogs appear in the mailbox. And unless I know exactly what varieties I’m looking for, I still prefer to browse a printed catalog.
Over the years, I have picked a few favorites. Burpee, of course. Virtually a household name, with their classic tomato variety, “Big Boy”. I also had the opportunity to visit Burpee’s Fordhook Farm in Doylestown, which brings it even closer to home.
I quickly appreciated Johnny’s selected seeds and took the opportunity to visit their farm in Maine. I love their selection of peas and beans, and it was thanks to Johnny’s catalog that I discovered the floating blankets. Plus, their catalog is full of more specific information about planting and growing than most.
However, I also like to browse new catalogs; there is so much to learn! In the process, I discovered that over the years the face of seed distribution has changed. In the old days, the catalogs simply offered seeds for sale, and there are some that remain the same, for example Gurney Seeds and Jung Seeds, and these continue to fill a niche. Gradually, however, I noticed that some catalogs included recipes for favorite varieties. (Confused about what to do with that bumper summer squash crop? Here are some ideas!) Renee Shepherd (founder of Renee’s Garden, known as “The Garden to Table Seed Company”) has published her first book of kitchen, “Recipes from a Potager”, in 1993.
Just in time for my first small container-grown vegetable garden in South Philadelphia, dwarf varieties started popping up. Easy-to-grow seed collections for kindergartens followed. Old varieties (open pollinated) have become more desirable, as well as organic seeds (not treated with chemicals). Companies like Seeds of Change (founded 1989) and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company (founded 1998) have sprung up.
Micro greens have become a thing, along with the now standard “Mesclun mix”. Finally, more recently I have noticed more and more companies dedicating a section to seeds to create pollinator gardens. And others have programs that “give back”. By looking at the seed catalogs, it turns out that you can follow the cultural changes. Who knew?
With all of this in mind, I want to focus a bit on one particular seed company. Botanical Interests, located in Colorado, celebrated its 25th anniversary two years ago, but it was the first time I had heard of it. The cover of their 2020 catalog reads almost like a magazine. Many reasons to take a look inside:
“Growing from seed for 25 years, and how we show gratitude”
“Also in this issue: How to Use Edible Flowers, p. 57 “
“Staying Grounded: Gardening for Your Health, p. 41 “
“Plus: get our garden journal and other activity books for free”
Inside, I found detailed illustrations of hand-drawn plants with a few photos interspersed. In the center was a detachable guide on the seedlings inside and out. Invaluable! And, as promised, a downloadable garden journal and coloring / activity books for the kids, plus a guide to starting the seeds. Accessible on their website: Botanicalinterests.com. (Scroll down and under “More,” click “Free Downloads.”)
It takes a special person and a special vision to venture into the seed business, and every business has its own story. I invite you to visit their websites and learn more.
Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Send an email to [email protected], or send a mail to PO Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots”. Pam’s nature books for kids and families are available on Amazon at Amazon.com/author/pamelabaxter.