On Buying Seeds

The first seed catalog usually lands in my mailbox in November, and a few more trickle in through December. Then right after Christmas, in that week before New Year’s Day, another little rush of seed catalogs replaces the annual Christmas cards and letters. That's how it all starts, my annual seed buying odyssey.

I stack the catalogs up on a side table and then one evening (which will be soon), I’ll sit down and go through all of them. Some I read quickly, knowing I probably won’t order anything from them; others I review more carefully, knowing they will get an order from me in a few weeks. I always like to read all their introductions and see what they are featuring and what is new, even if I’m not buying from them.

Before I place any orders, I stop in at a bricks and mortar store that I know will have their seed displays up in early January, AND have them on sale. Back in the day before they lost their way and went out of business, Frank’s Nursery & Crafts would have seeds for 50% off for at least a week or more in January. Burpee, Ferry & Morse, and Thompson & Morgan seeds, to name a few, all 50% off! I always went alone so that no one would get antsy and want to leave before I was ready. It was like walking through a seed catalog. I strolled up and down the aisle multiple times looking at all the seed packets, comparing between brands to see who had the most seeds for the best price and dreaming about how wonderful it would all be in my garden that spring.

When Frank’s closed, I thought I would have to pay “full retail” again, or end up ordering all my seeds. But last year, Menards had seeds out in early January – Burpee Seeds - and marked them down 33%. (Good enough! I’m planning to head over there this Saturday to see if the seeds are in!)

Once I finish shopping at the “bricks and mortar” stores, I turn to the seed catalogs to fill in the gaps.

I try to order from one seed catalog to save on shipping, although I’ll admit that shipping is generally not a big percentage of my overall yearly seed expense. For the past several years, that one catalog has been Park Seed Co. They won me over a few years ago because they had seeds for Viola mandshurica ‘Fuji Dawn’, a variegated leaf woodland violet. I had read about these violets in a British gardening magazine and decided that I had to have them, even if it meant ordering the seeds from a British seed company and personally paying for the actual ship that would bring them across the ocean to me. But lo and behold, my Internet search led me to Park Seed. They had them! So, I ordered two packets, and have tried to order something from them every year since.

Ironically, when I just now searched the Park Seed web site for these seeds, they seem to no longer have them. So I included a link above to Summer Hill Seeds, the 1st site that came up in my search.

Yes, I know that some of you are reading this and thinking that Park Seed and other ‘mainline’ seed companies have the “same ol’ same ol’” and there are better varieties and more exciting varieties in other catalog. And now that I realize Park Seed doesn't have the variegated violets that I need to get again because the originals have died out, well, maybe I need to expand my horizons a bit, at least in buying seeds, and look more closely at some other catalogs. Feel free to comment with recommendations.

One more thing about buying seeds… I was surprised that several who commented or posted about their own seed buying habits were not aware that there are some places where you can buy seeds in bulk. Generally, if you go to an old-time hardware store or to a “feed & seed” type store, or even some garden centers, you will find at least vegetable seeds available by the ounce. The first place I saw seeds sold this way was at my uncle’s feed store in a small town in southern Indiana. And I know of a garden center near where I work that still carries bulk seeds. Varieties are sometimes limited, and quite traditional, even heirloom, and the seeds are generally for vegetables planted in long rows like corn, beans, peas, carrots, etc. These same stores also usually have onion sets and seed potatoes 'by the pound'. Try to find such a place, as it is probably an independent retailer and they would appreciate your business!

Next post… what I do with seeds once I buy them.


  1. Great post of seed buying! I love buying in bulk. Us midwesterners know all about seed and grain stores don't we? I have two great ones in our small town.

  2. Carol, you are making me all nostalgic about Franks - used to have one a mile from my home, and popped in all the time. I did that same slow-stroll down the seed aisle, too.

    An envelope mailed to Park Seed held one of our first seed orders for the garden at our first home - maybe it's time to look at that link.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  3. Oh, I miss Frank's!! Their last year in business in my area was our first year in this house, so I didn't get to buy much from them, but what I did was at very reasonable prices.

    I do the same thing as far as the stores go. I look in catalogs to see what looks good (usually Burpee's, since I can reliably find their seed around here) and then I see what I can find at the garden center from my list. I usually get lucky with the vegetable and herb seeds, not so much with the annuals and perennials.

    Thanks again for starting this thread. I've had fun reading what the other bloggers have to say about this too :-)

  4. I've never bought seeds in bulk. If I had a place like that near by, I'd bring my wheel barrel.

    Looking forward to the next post. I plan on posting pictures of my homemade seed starting rack once I set it up.

  5. I've stopped buying Burpee seeds in stores because the packets are cheaper but have significantly fewer seeds than the ones I get through the catalog.

  6. Very interesting post about your seedy habits, Carol. But what a pity, all the seed companies you quoted do not send there catalogues to Germany. I would love to have one to compare it with our European seeds.


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