100 Year Old Seed Buying Warnings For Today

Gather round. The fire is slowing burning down, the last embers fading, leaving just enough light for me to make out the writing in an old gardening book, The Flower Garden – A Manual for the Amateur Gardener by Ida D. Bennett.

Illustrated and published by Doubleday, Page & Company in 1910, it is one of several books that make up The Garden Library.

What use could such a book be to us, 100 years later?

Let’s read it and see…

Buying seeds is largely a matter of experience. So glowing are the descriptions sent out in the numerous catalogues that one may easily be led into ordering many worthless novelties, and many desirable ones for which there is neither room nor sufficient knowledge of their wants to grow them successfully. Cheap collections, where one is requested to send ten cents for a catalogue and twelve packages of seeds, are worst of all.” (Intro to Chapter Five, “Purchasing of Seeds”)

My goodness, not much has changed in 100 years.

Gardeners are still easily led into ordering worthless flower novelties, and vegetables, too, based on descriptions that are nothing less than glowing.

We still order more seeds to grow more plants than we could ever hope to have room for in our gardens.

And of course we order seeds for plants when we lack “sufficient knowledge of their wants to grow them successfully”.

So if nothing has changed in 100 years, will it ever change for us?

Will we always have to be warned that many of the seeds we buy, to put it bluntly, will be wasted because they either don’t live up to their descriptions, or we don’t have room for them, or we have no idea how to grow some of the plants, if we even get the seed to germinate?


But after 100 years, gardeners are not likely to change. We will continue to enjoy our traditional seed buying ways, ordering seeds based on emotions, falling for descriptions we know are pushed to the edge of truthfulness, ignoring the actual size of our gardens, unconcerned that we may fail at germinating the seeds and growing the plants to maturity.

Seeds are like dreams, some come true and some don’t. We always want to have dreams, and we always want to have seeds, too. ~ 


  1. Carol, this is so very true. As I get more and more perennial plants there is less room for new seedlings but! I try not to buy seeds, I get lots of free ones from magazines - I have so many packets of seed that I should throw away. Still my little vegetable border is designed to help the urge to plants seeds - this year only veg seed allowed... well and a few herbs... then the flowers I can't resist!

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  2. Isn't this the truth. I am even guilty of buying seeds and just keeping them all stacked up tidy in their packets, never giving them a chance to grow. ~~sigh

  3. Try not having to temper your enthusiasm but your 5 year olds... "Can we get the red beans? And green beans? And the purple beans are my favorite...And the really, really long beans we got last year?"

  4. I have so little space that a couple of packets of nasturtiums tucked in here or there leads to an overabundance of blooms. Of course, you know I have more than a couple of packets of nasturtiums.


    Eyesbigger Thangarden

  5. Yep, not much has changed...they are just sooo pretty in their little packages with sweet descripts...who can resiste.

  6. May we never stop dreaming of what could be in our gardens, and never stop the selection of seeds we think would be nice. Novelties, perhaps we can resist those, but may we never stop sowing seeds of hope. :-)

  7. I so agree, Frances - Hope, that's what it's really all about, isn't it? By gardening we are making a bold statement about our hopes. I think I'll order some seeds now :)

  8. Yes, gardeners haven't changed. But I agree with Frances. One should never lose hope.

  9. I like what Frances said, too... and buying too many seeds is a comparatively inexpensive way to take a chance on the future, isn't it?

    Carol, you made me curious about Ida Bennett ... looks like she was a Michigan girl (although her parents were born in New York State)- she shows up on several US Census records for Michigan, living at 480 Grand Street in Coldwater, first with her parents & siblings, later with widowed mother, and last one I found was in 1920 as 'Head of Household', occupation entered as writer for magazines.

    And very cool - in 1903 Ida invented and patented a removable window-shelf for window gardens!

    Bet we would have liked her.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  10. That is such a beautiful book cover, I'd love to see inside it. I find old many gardening books to be still relevant and useful. This is very sound advice. Whether I'll heed it is another matter.

  11. The seeds I ordered this year seemed quite expensive but they are plants that are generally not offered in the nurseries, so I bit the bullet.

    Now, I have to hope they are successful growers.


  12. It is not only the prettiness that seduces me, but the fantasy that I will eat out of the garden, and never buy another vegetable until December.

  13. One of my resolutions this year is not to get too carried away buying seeds as I did last year. But we'll see if that lasts--those descriptions and photos are so enticing.

  14. Hilarious! I absolutely love this post! I'm resolved to buy precisely what I like (within my budget) and know that the experiment is part of the process. Besides, I've found some of my favorite plants among that pile of duds.

  15. That brought a wry grin to my face, but I am with Frances, I never want to stop getting excited about trying something new, though I do now try to do a little research on which edibles people rate, there are few things more frustrating than lavishing care and attention on a plant in the hope that it will reward you with delicious food only for it to prove bland and tasteless.

  16. I may not order any seeds at all because I have so many already.~~Dee

  17. Last night I ordered a batch of herb seeds... If just a quarter of them germinate I will be out of space in my vegetable garden (of which the planned herb garden is only about a tenth...), so yes. Over-ordering.

    Mind you, this is not just a bad thing. I had a rough day yesterday, and the mere thought of seeds germinating, turning into living plants and eventually flavouring my risottos, roast chickens and raviolis turned a gloomy evening into a ray of hope and joy and sheer, unadulterated pleasure. And I was aware of that. For a few dollars (literally no more than a few) I bought myself an evening of bliss. It was cheaper than buying a box of chocolates, and the pleasure will last longer even if some of the seeds will eventually waste away.


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