Ritual of Seed Catalog Reading and Ordering

My stack of seed catalogs seems to grow each time I go out to the mailbox.

Burpee, Jung Seeds & Plants, Territorial Seed Company, Select Seeds, Pinetree Garden Seeds, Thompson & Morgan, Totally Tomatoes, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, Miller Nurseries, Gurney’s, R.H. Shumway… have all arrived.

Park’s, Vermont Bean Seed, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Henry Fields, and probably a few others that I’ve forgotten about, are no doubt on their way to my mailbox and will arrive any day now.

How do these seed companies find me? I don’t order from all of them. Who could? But year after year, they faithfully send me their catalogs.

And year after year, I faithfully go through a ritual of sorts of seed catalog reading and ordering.

First I go through the catalogs that I know I will order from, reading them cover to cover, marking, circling, and tagging everything I want, everything I need. Then I’ll glance through the catalogs I don’t plan to order from ‘just in case’ they have something different that I must have.

I’ll get bleary eyed reading all the descriptions and looking at all the pictures in these catalogs. I’ll find plants that I know will make my garden the best it has ever been, that I won’t be able to garden, to live, without.

I’ll also look for my ‘tried and true’ varieties of flowers and vegetables that I must grow every year, or my garden will be incomplete.

Then I’ll figure out that all that I’ve marked and chosen is way more than I could possible grow in my current garden. I’ll briefly consider the option of turning my entire backyard into a kitchen garden (why not?) before I whittle my seed list down to the basics, and then add in a few new varieties to try before going online and filling out my orders.

I’ve been reading seed catalogs this way for years, decades actually, except the part about going online to order the actual seeds. (Remember I started gardening at a very young age.) ‘Back in the day’, I used to help my Dad go through the Burpee seed catalog. After we had agreed on the varieties to get, I’d fill out the order form and we’d mail it off in plenty of time to get the tomato seeds so he could start them inside as early as February.

I still look forward to the arrival of the seed catalogs and spending time reading through all of them. It’s a time when I can imagine a near perfect garden, a big garden, filled with vegetables and scented with flowers. I can see my garden already starting to take form in the markings and notes in my seed catalogs.

It really is going to be one of my best ever!


  1. I was getting all excited about this year, starting with sorting out the pumpkin plans.... and now it has started snowing again!
    I hope this cold weather does in some bugs and slugs, though.

    You really have quite a collection there! I've been going to more websites and browsing, but I have to admit, I do like wrapping up in something warm and reading through all of the catalog descriptions.

  2. Carol, there is something very comforting about keeping a time honered ritual isn't there? Yours sound wonderful. I know about this time of year I start to dream of all the plants I would like to have and then about March reality sets in and I start paring down the lists. Fun while it lasts though.

  3. So Carol, are you planting something totally new to you this year? I love that Baker's Heirloom Seed Catalog. The pictures are divine! Some of those weird vegetables look intriguing don't they?

  4. I always seem to have more seeds than time/room to sow. But like you, Carol, I can't resist the catalogs, I can't imagine not having proper paper ones, internet is great for ordering but doesn't have the same enjoyment.

    I have a new system this year, I have listed where I want to plant seeds i.e 2 annuals for front bed, then match the seeds to that. I did add 2 packs for fun at the bottom of the list, I wonder if it will work!

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  5. It's fun to go through them each year and see what's new. I've got to do some serious seed cataloging of what I have before I even attempt to decide what I need! I've done a poor job of record keeping in that area.

  6. Just so! I snuggled up in bed with three catalogs last night and my yellow highlighter. Only got through the Select Seeds catalog but what fun. This morning this was the first post I read and I felt like we'd been going through catalogs together. Ah, rituals. Perusing catalogs is a catholic (lowercase "c") experience for gardeners.

    I love any plant that's described as liking hot and humid conditions. Based on that, I think I'm going to have a summer meadow of cosmos to follow the spring meadow of larkspur.

  7. I'll be reading mine soon too, although I don't get all of those. Just thinking about so many makes me tired. :) Dreaming of spring.~~Dee

  8. Ya know, you could eat it instead of mowing it if you DID turn the entire back yard into a kitchen garden.

    COME ON!

  9. This is one of my favorite things too. I just don't get as many seed catalogs as you do (or as I used to). It's the only time of the year when the garden is perfect - in the imagination at least.

  10. I love the seed picking ritual. Mine was a little curtailed this year. My order is already in, but I'm still drooling as more catalogs arrive.

  11. Hello! I'm a first time visitor. What a lovely post. I buy mostly heirloom and organic seeds so my list of catalogues might be a bit shorter and a little different, but the ritual is the same. (Don't you just love Baker's?)

    I love what you say in the quote on your header bar. I too spend months dreaming about the garden in May. Thanks for a first rate blog! I'll be back.

  12. Oh, catalogs are such delicious eye candy in January! As I write, schools are closed because another predicted 4 to 8 inches of snow is falling outside - I think we must be well over 6 feet total by now - and those beautiful, vibrantly colored catalog pictures are a much-needed contrast to the white landscape. So what if the pictures don't always portray the actual result in my garden - I enjoy the catalogs as Art even they exaggerate color or vigor or yield a bit :-)
    Happy new year - VW

  13. I only get one seed catalog. Heck I am still planting bulbs. I can't think of seeds just yet. Ha.. Can't wait to see what you decide upon.

  14. I'm still waiting on my Pinetree Garden catalog--and I've actually ordered from them in the past.

    So often when I look at those catalogs, I see plants that will never grow here and have to remind myself that most catalog copywriter's definition of 'hot' and 'full sun' don't apply here.

  15. When do you usually plant your tomatoes in the garden, if you start them in February? That sounds early to me!

  16. I'm glad you put the Pinetree catalog on top of the pile....they are tops with me, and one of the places I always order from.

  17. What a nice collection of catalogues to reed by the fire. I think if you buy from one they pass on your name. I haven't had one seed catalogue this year. They have given up on me. I actually filled out an order for Park seed, on line, a week ago then left it. Guess what? They emailed me to tell me I had an incomplete order! Still haven't got back to it.

  18. My seed ordering is just about done. I'll have to do a post on that.

    If you want any moral support for turning your whole backyard into a kitchen garden, I'm here to give it to you. If we lived near each other, I'd offer "physical support" too. That makes it sound like I'm a bra or something.

    Would you order from Burpee now?

  19. Carol, I haven't cracked open a seed catalog yet, I'm still thinking about taking down the Christmas decorations. But it's fun to hear about you perusing yours!

  20. Carol,
    Always a treat to drop by and read your interesting posts. Catalogs are arriving at my house and stacking up too, but I love looking through them during this dormant season and making plans for spring and summer...and writing out my "gotta have" lists as I stick Post It tags on certain pages with "hot" plants and seeds. As I get older, I find "armchair gardening" quite rewarding this time of year!
    Hope you and yours have a Happy New Year!
    Jon at Mississippi Garden

  21. Sounds like a great plan, Carol. I also like to compare prices and the size of plants before I choose who to order from. At this time of year, I'd like to turn an acre of yard into garden, but as you say, reality sets in about March. And the checkbook gives me a reality check as well.

  22. Companies tend to pass on your name to other companies over here unless you tell them not to. Perhaps the same thing happens in the States?

    We have Thompson and Morgan over here too.

  23. I can't believe that I do not get a single seed catalog in the mail. Last year I had to order them and I'm in the process of ordering them now. I just looked up this post to see which ones you get. I think you did a post last year on your favorites seed catalogs and I'm looking for that post now. Bummer!


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