Herb Seed Catalogs Mark the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Reader Contribution by Lemon Verbena Lady
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You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog Lemon Verbena Lady’s Herb Garden

Happy New Year to you! Hope you had a wonderful holiday season because now it’s time to get down to really important business: buying herb seeds for your herb garden. One of my favorite songs of the Christmas season is “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and my favorite singer is Andy Williams. OK, that dates me, but I’m OK with that and I won’t torture you with having to listen to it again! This song has been playing in my head since mid-November. Why you may ask? It is because the herb seed catalogs have started to roll in. I shared a few of my favorite catalogs in an earlier post, Tending to the Fall Garden: Is it too late for fall chores?

I was asked to expand upon that brief list. So as you may have read in the previous post, it all started when I got an email from Nichols Garden Nursery in Oregon that they would no longer be producing a paper catalog. It is a bittersweet announcement for me. I always love in the early winter to sit in my recliner and have a cup of herbal tea and pour through my seed and plant catalogs that arrive in the mail.

I actually have a collection of some herb farms catalogs through the years. Maybe a little too herb geeky for you! So to do this posting, I got online and ordered as many paper catalogs that offered herb seeds and plants as I could. Some sent me their previous year’s version and will be sending the new catalogs starting this month. So this will be a several postings process until every last catalog has been accounted for! Well, that’s not quite right. You may be on a quest after reading this to obtain other herb catalogs that I may not have covered. It becomes addictive! I also wanted to say that I concentrated on herb seeds in this posting, but all of the catalogs and websites that I have discussed sell more than just herb seeds so check out all of their products. If you don’t find seeds you like, you may find another product that you can buy. So here are my early arrivals. 

Disclaimer: I have not ordered from every catalog or website that I am discussing in this post. So do your homework. I am hopefully pointing you in a number of directions and from there you can make your own informed decisions.

Clockwise from top right: The Thyme Garden, Heirloom Roses, Wildseed Farms and Pinetree Garden Seeds.

The first paper catalog I received this year came in mid-November, even before the turkey was placed in the oven. Pinetree Garden Seeds from New Gloucester, Maine is a family-owned business like so many seed companies in the U.S for 32 years. I have been ordering from them for many years because they offer smaller quantities of seeds at lower prices. So if you see a variety that you haven’t tried before, it may not cost a lot at Pinetree to try it. Pinetree is first a vegetable seed catalog, but they do have a selection of herb seeds that you may not have seen before, especially basil varieties like ‘Blue Spice’. They also have a Pinetree basil mix. They sell dyeing herb seeds, like ‘Bulls Blood’ beet, henna, woad and lemon grass seeds. Don’t forget edible flowers as well such as calendulas (‘Lemonade’, ‘Indian Prince’, ‘Radio’ and ‘Pink Surprise’), nasturtiums (‘Jewel Mix’, ‘Dwarf Cherry Rose’, ‘Vesuvius’, ‘Caribbean Cocktail’ and more), dianthus (‘Chianti’ and ‘Victoriana’), signet marigolds (‘Golden Gem’ and ‘Lemon Star’) and sunflowers (‘Moulin Rouge’, ‘Giant Gray Stripe’, ‘Dwarf Sunflower’ and ‘Music Box’). They also sell garlic bulbs.

The Thyme Garden from Alsea, Oregon was catalog number two. It is a $2 catalog, but well worth the price for the herbal information given. The catalog in the photo is of their 2011 catalog. Their new catalog will be out this month.  They are a family owned farm that has been in business for 22 years. They started as a restaurant and then purchased a farm to expand their seed business and start a nursery. Their main focus are herb, tree and flower seeds, hop rhizomes, mushroom plugs and some bare-root perennials. They stopped doing mail order of herb plants several years ago, but the herb plants are available at their nursery. They offer herbal lunches from June to mid-August and have other herbal events throughout the year, including weddings. The catalog even has a few herbal recipes included. Really, if you are far away like me, their website is beautiful and takes you through each season in their gardens. It is another herbal destination I want to get to someday.

I will be honest. I have not ordered from them, but I plan to order some unusual herb seeds this year. Sometimes I use the information in the catalog as a reference source and not for ordering.  Do as I say, not as I do! Order a catalog and buy some seeds from The Thyme Garden. They have unusual choices, a plant called ‘Quillquina’, a native from Bolivia, a black lovage, lemon mint, lemon savory, and Mexican marigold. (Any herb that is medicinal is unusual for me!) They also have reasonable prices. They have a new blog that you should check out at More Good Thymes in The Kitchen and a bi-monthly newsletter to keep up on the latest news from The Thyme Garden.

Catalog number three is Wildseed Farms from Fredericksburg, Texas. Their main focus is wildflowers, exotic garden varieties and grass seeds and mixes for all regions of the United States.  Their back inside cover lists 20 different herb seed packets for a reasonable $1.25 each. Again, I Googled herb seed catalogs and this one came up. Could you imagine a whole field of foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), gold yarrow (Achillea filipendulina), Johnny-jump-ups (Viola cornuta), lemon mint (Monarda citriodora), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea), sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) and sunflower collections (Helianthus annuus)?Well, maybe Wildseed Farms can provide a solution for you.

Since 2012 is the year of the rose, the next catalog I received is from one of my favorite rose companies, Heirloom Roses from St. Paul, Oregon. I have ordered from them for many years and got one of my favorite edible roses from them, a white rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa alba). It is really delicious. Their roses are own-root, virus-free and really make it across the country without damage.  They pack their plants very efficiently.

I also want to give you a few more websites for roses. This is just a sample and you need to verify my information with at least a phone call or email to make sure they are still open for business. The Antique Rose Emporium is from Brenham, Texas with display garden centers in both Independence and San Antonio, Texas. There is also Chamblee’s Rose Nursery in Tyler, Texas. Of course, when you think of roses, you think Jackson & Perkins in Hodges, South Carolina. Regan Nursery of Fremont, California sells roses and so does Nature Hills Nursery in Omaha, Nebraska. I know there are lots of rose societies and there maybe one in your area, but here is the American Rose Society website to get further information.

Clockwise from top right: The Cook’s Garden, Urban Farmer, Territorial Seed Company and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds from Mansfield, Missouri was the next catalog pulled from my mailbox. They certainly have a lot going on. They have stores in Mansfield, Missouri, Petaluma, California and they are restoring the Comstock, Ferre & Co. seed company site in Wethersfield, Connecticut as a living example of America’s agricultural past.

One of their main goals is to get children more interested in gardening. To that end, they have given away more than 250,000 seed packets to non-profit groups in 2011 and they plan to give more away this year. They have events during 2012 for the public to attend, publish the magazine Heirloom Gardener and have written a book called The Heirloom Life Gardener. The catalog is mainly an heirloom vegetable catalog, but they do have several pages of herb seeds including ‘Elephant’ dill, a late flowering, very productive one, wild zaatar oregano (Origanum syriaca), an oregano that is not hardy in the Northeast, and a favorite of mine, summer savory (Satureja hortensis). Baker Creek carries one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties.

This next catalog, The Cook’s Garden from Warminster, Pennsylvania has been in business for a long time, but since about 2004 was purchased by George Ball of Burpee. I found this blog post from the Garden Rant in 2007 and I think it sums up the feeling of the new Cook’s Garden catalog for Amy Stewart who blogged about it. It’s called George Ball Ruined The Cook’s Garden.

When The Cook’s Garden was owned by Shepherd and Ellen Ogden, they were known for their lettuce varieties, mesclun mixes and unusual varieties of vegetables and herbs and woodcut illustrations by Mary Azarian. It’s all gone as Amy Stewart relates. They do have some organic herb plants and herb seeds. You can access that list at The Cook’s Garden/Organic. I’ll let you decide whether you wish to order from the new Cook’s Garden.

I got a Christmas present in the mail with this next catalog which arrived on December 24th, from the Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove, Oregon. I like this catalog because it has two distinct seasons, spring and fall, and you get a catalog for each season. I just got an email from them recently with a digital version of their spring catalog. 

They also have a trial garden where they extensively test different varieties. This catalog has a multitude of information regarding growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. You could use it as a reference guide during the growing season. They also have a company store that sells everything that is in their catalog plus an extensive selection of plants and garden accessories. I have placed several orders over the years and have been pleased with their seeds. They have some interesting herb seed choices like ‘Christmas’ basil, ‘Queen of Sheba’ basil, ‘Sprinter’ caraway, cumin, variegated cat grass and epazote and plants like ‘Roman Beauty’ rosemary and ‘Gold Dust’ rosemary. They also sell garlic as well.

Territorial Seed has pledged to close the mileage gap from farm to table. They encourage customers to grow what they can and buy from local farmers to get the rest of their produce. They pride themselves on being their own largest supplier of seed when before they had to rely on outside suppliers. They are doing what they can to provide the best seed for their customers. 

The next catalog in the mail is from Urban Farmer from Indianapolis, Indiana. This is their first mail-order catalog. It is smaller than some, but maybe if it is your first herb garden, Urban Farmer is for you. They have many more choices on their website than could fit in their catalog. They do have an entire page of herb seeds including seeds for lemon grass and ‘Valentino’ basil. They do sell several varieties of garlic. They also have an Herb Garden Kit that gives you seeds for basil, parsley, chives, oregano, dill and cilantro for one price. If you are starting your first garden, that might be the way to go if you are on a tight budget. They also recycle magazines to package most of their seeds.

Clockwise from top right: Jung Seeds & Plants, Johnn’s Selected Seed and R. H. Shumway’s Illustrated Garden Guide.

Jung Seeds & Plants and R. H. Shumway’s Illustrated Garden Guide are both from Randolph, Wisconsin and have each been in business over 100 years. They both offer similar herb seeds and plants. Jung’s herbs are inspired by the Biltmore herb garden in North Carolina and are certified organic. R. H. Shumway’s catalog is very Victorian in feel, although they are selling modern seeds and other products. They have seeds for sweet woodruff, clary sage and ‘Florence’ fennel. Jung has a basil mix called Jung’s ‘Balcony Mix’ that sounds intriguing. They also have bay laurel, lemon grass and chocolate mint plants.

The final catalog of 2011 and for this posting is the 2012 Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog from Waterville, Maine. It is a long-time favorite of mine. Johnny’s is an employee-owned company. Like Territorial Seed Company, Johnny’s has their own trial garden and it is open during the season for tours. This is a catalog that I keep by my back door so that I can use the information about growing vegetables, herbs and flowers in my garden. Johnny’s has several pages of herbs. Some of them are organic as well. Since fusarium wilt has become an issue for basil seeds, they have tested their basil seeds for fusarium wilt and only ship seeds from lots where no fusarium wilt has been found. They have some unusual herb seeds such as chervil, ‘Staro’ chives, which has a heavier leaf for processing and freezing, lemon grass plants, mountain mint and papalo, a Mexican native herb for tacos, salsa and sauces reminiscent of cilantro and arugula. They also sell herb seed disks of various varieties. For someone with limited space and resources, it may be the way to go to get an herb garden started.

I do want to mention the online purveyors of herb seeds, but some are sold in retail garden centers as well, including the following source.

Renee’s Garden Seeds is another favorite of mine from Felton, California. Renee Shepherd has been in the seed business for a long time. She sold Shepherd’s Garden Seeds some years ago and fortunately for all of us, she had to get back into the seed business. She does have retail outlets that carry her seeds, but it is very easy, safe and quick to order from the website. I especially like her selection of edible flowers including, nasturtiums and sunflowers. She also has a blog that is easy to follow called, appropriately enough, Renee’s Blog.

These next choices I have not ordered from, but I do have the Hometown Seeds link on my blog. This source are two men who had childhoods of working in their parents gardens (hard child labor, their words) and who after living fast paced lives in the corporate world decided to switch gears and try to make their hobby of gardening a source of income in Orem, Utah. They have a very nice selection of herb seeds and something called survival seeds as well.

Again, these next websites were all found through Google. I did my best to root out older sites, but one may have slipped through. Please let me know if that is the case. These are in no particular order and again I have not ordered any seeds through these sites. Do your homework and decide.

This first site is from northern Alabama and it is called Sand Mountain Herbs. They seem to have an extensive list of herb seeds from medicinal to culinary.

These next choices are related by the grower who supplies their herb seeds. This next one should be familiar to readers of The Herb Companion magazine and it is Mountain Rose Herbs from Oregon. They have a very nice website and list of medicinal herb seeds supplied by Horizon Herbs from Oregon. They also have a paper catalog and I ordered one for my next posting. Also Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply sells both its own brand of organic herb seeds and Horizon Herb seeds as well. Of course, then we have to mention the supplier, Horizon Herbs from Oregon. They sell seeds of medicine and seeds of sustenance.

I also found Victory Seeds from Oregon which sells rare, open-pollinated and heirloom garden varieties. Finally, for this posting I found Eden Brothers from Georgia who sells “Everything under the Sun.” I have just picked the tip of herbal catalogs and websites!

I assume that I will intersperse postings throughout the coming year. Hopefully, it will be something for us both to look forward to, herbally speaking. As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here with a comment or my email at lemonverbenalady@hotmail.com and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” Talk to you soon.

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