10 Terrific Seed Companies for 2020
March is a great time to start many seeds indoors under lights. Will you be growing vegetables this year, or starting a cutting garden? Here are ten terrific companies to order seeds from this year. Warning: you will have a tough time choosing a company to order from and narrowing down your seed selections!
(1) Park Seed
Founded in 1863, Park Seed has a long history of supplying vegetable and flower seeds to customers all over the US. You will find cutting and bedding flowers, organic vegetables, heirloom varieties, herbs, as well as garden-ready plants, fruits and seed-starting supplies.
(2) Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Baker Creek promotes and preserves our agricultural and culinary heritage by offering one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties. A family business located in Missouri, you feel find their personal touch and photos of family and employees on their website and in the catalog. All orders have no shipping and handling charges in the US.
(3) Hudson Valley Seeds
Hudson Valley Seeds is best known for their Art Packs, which unite practical aspirations in the garden with the universal human desire for beauty, meaning, and joy. The company has its roots in the public library of Gardiner, New York. Co-founder Ken Greene, then working as a librarian, had been interested in the local food movement and, realizing there was little discourse about the seeds that grow our food, started the country’s first seed library program in 2004. The more he delved into the subject, the more he realized that working with seeds was a way to work with issues concerning the environment, health, history, culture, and more, and Hudson Valley Seeds was born in 2008. The company offers heirloom and open-pollinated organic garden seeds only.
(4) Pinetree Garden Seeds
A family-owned business operating out of a 300 year old farmhouse in Maine, Pinetree offers more than 1300 varieties of seeds at low prices for the home gardener. Their seeds are sold in smaller packets so that you can try a larger variety of flowers or vegetables. All seeds are non-GMO. Their Bring in the Butterflies Collection includes annuals and perennials that will lure the butterflies to your garden. In addition to seeds, the company sells spices and teas, essential oils, soap-making supplies and other crafting materials.
(5) Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Also located in Maine, Johnny’s has been selling a diverse selection of vegetable and flower seeds for 45 years. In addition to seeds, they offer an impressive array of seed-starting and gardening supplies and tools for both homeowners and professional growers. The website has a terrific grower’s library section with lots of tips and resources.
(6) Renee’s Garden
Renee’s Garden is a company run by gardeners, for gardeners. Renee harvests and uses the vegetables and herbs in her kitchen to choose the most delicious, and cuts the flowers for bouquets to select the finest colors, forms and fragrances. She offers only non-GMO varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers that are very special for home gardeners, based on great flavor, easy culture and exceptional garden performance.
(7) Swallowtail Garden Seeds
Located in California, Swallowtail has an impressive collection of flower seeds – both perennials and annuals. They even have a separate web page for flowering vines, if you want to try clematis, passion vine, cardinal climber, cup and saucer and many others from seed. You will also find heirloom vegetables and herbs. Shipping and handling is $5.99 for all orders.
(8) Burpee Seeds
When W. Atlee Burpee began selling seeds in the 1880s, he toured Europe every year, beginning in the south in early spring and making his way north, obtaining seed stock as he traveled. He found that most of the best vegetable breeders of the time were German, Dutch, and Scandinavian. By late summer he was in England, where he found the best flower breeders. He kept a field book of data and observations, and during the voyage home he studied all his notes. The field book, with corrections and deletions, became that year’s Burpee catalogue. Not all European seeds performed well in America’s climate, so in 1888, Burpee bought a farm near Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and transformed it into a world-famous plant development facility. Successful plant hybridizing by Burpee has led to some of the best vegetable and flower seeds for American growers. Burpee also acquired The Cook’s Garden 10 years ago, and now offers some of the best gourmet veggies, greens, and herbs from around the world.
(9) Floret Farm
If you are familiar with Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden book, then you will enjoy browsing through their extensive selection of cut flower seeds. Floret Farm is a small family-run flower farm in Washington that has earned accolades from numerous gardening and lifestyle magazines. I was bowled over by their gorgeous varieties and color selections of cut flowers that no other company seems to order.
(10) Botanical Interests
Owners Curtis and Judy started Botanical Interests because they believed that gardeners were not getting the information they needed on seed packets. Their created a unique seed packet that includes art, garden history, landscape ideas, organic gardening know-how, recipes, fun facts, and of course, high-quality seed. Botanical Interests’ website is also very user-friendly. You can search flowers, herbs and veggies by attributes such as cold tolerance, good for containers, attract hummingbirds or pollinators, color, height, and exposure. You can also download a seed-starting e-book from their website.
10 Terrific Seed Companies for 2020 March is a great time to start many seeds indoors under lights. Will you be growing vegetables this year, or starting a cutting garden? Here are ten
Best Vegetable Seed Companies
By the time you poke your first seeds into the ground each spring, you already have huge hopes for the success of your crops. You’ve spent hours planning, weeks waiting, and your soil may reflect years of hard work spent building its fertility. With so much potential in those seeds, you want to buy from a seed company you can trust. So how do you know which have the best seeds and selections? And which follow sustainable practices?
To answer these questions, we asked hundreds of gardeners to take our 2011 Seed Company Survey. Our survey group was a well-seasoned bunch: About 65 percent had grown food gardens for more than 10 years. Each respondent picked his or her three favorite vegetable seed companies and then ranked companies based on individual qualities. Ultimately, the survey revealed 15 standout vegetable seed companies, all of which emphasize sustainability. (Join our Gardening Advisory Group to take future surveys.)
Top 15 Sustainable Seed Companies
Our Top 15 list (toward the end of this article) is based on how often the vegetable seed companies were ranked in gardeners’ top three. For our survey takers, it wasn’t just about the seeds. In addition to an array of varieties with consistently high germination rates, they wanted seed companies that provide detailed variety descriptions, growing advice and interesting stories. Genetic integrity was also a top priority. The gardeners we surveyed were deeply concerned about genetically modified (GM) food crops, so we made sure all of the companies here have signed the Safe Seed Pledge — a written commitment to sell only non-GM seed — or made public declarations that they will not knowingly sell GM seeds.
Many gardeners said they didn’t know there were more than 100 mail-order seed and plant companies. You can find a national list in our Directory of Companies Offering Mail-Order Seeds and Plants.
Superior ratings in multiple categories put Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a company that offers heirlooms, organics and hybrids, in the top spot. “The Johnny’s catalog is accurate and informative without the hype, and I have never had a failed crop from their seed,” wrote a Midwestern gardener with more than 20 years of experience. Others praised Johnny’s “cool tools” and hard-to-find organic gardening supplies, and many said they liked doing business with an employee-owned company.
Gardeners want to support preservation of heirloom varieties, so Seed Savers Exchange received high marks for providing unique and nearly forgotten heirlooms. Seed Savers, a nonprofit organization, has “wonderful heirloom seed, a beautiful catalog and a great mission,” wrote a Mid-Atlantic gardener who puts sustainability first. The Seed Savers catalog was rated highly for its variety descriptions and photographs, plus customers said they liked being a part of seed conservation. “They’re outside of the mainstream, consolidated seed-production system, and they have a wonderful community feel to their operation and network,” wrote an organic gardener in the Pacific Northwest.
A strong sense of purpose has earned Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds many loyal patrons. A prominent spokesman against GM “Frankenfoods,” founder Jere Gettle has amassed a global selection of rare and worthwhile varieties. “What’s not to love about Baker Creek?” wrote a Mid-Atlantic gardener. “They’re making a hugely positive impact on the world. With all the GM seed obscenities going on, they’re helping make sure humans will be able to eat in the future!”
Passions for ethical responsibility and high-quality seeds helped put Seeds of Change, High Mowing Seeds and Fedco Seeds near the top of the list, too. Here’s what some respondents had to say about them:
Seeds of Change: “Good combination of heirlooms, open-pollinated and quality hybrids, all organically grown.”
“I find the agronomics information listed for each type of vegetable very helpful, and I like their emphasis on biodiversity and sustainability.”
High Mowing Organic Seeds: “I love the personal service and wide variety of organic selections from High Mowing.”
“The varieties they offer are excellent and suitable for organic market farming; everything is certified organic, which makes life easier if ordering seed for a certified organic farm.”
Fedco Seeds: “Excellent variety choice, and usually the cheapest prices. I like supporting a co-op, and Fedco offers information on where their seeds are from.”
Crazy for Seed Catalogs
Nearly 70 percent of gardeners said they buy most of their seeds from mail-order vegetable seed companies. Most gardeners were quick to heap praise on their favorite seed companies and their catalogs. Of Fedco, one gardener said, “Their catalog makes wonderful, entertaining, laugh-out-loud reading, and all of the vintage graphics are wonderful.”
Loco for Local Seeds
Most gardeners send at least one seed order to a local or regional company, and this practice offers certain benefits. For instance, locally grown seed is more likely to be suited to your climate. In the upper and mid-South, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has a strong following. “I go here first,” said a Mid-Atlantic gardener. “Southern Exposure provides mostly locally grown seed, heritage and open-pollinated varieties, excellent service and decent prices.” Known for offering unique items, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was called “a small company with a big heart” by a longtime organic farmer.
In the Northwest, Territorial Seeds reigned supreme as a regional seed source, with excellent ratings for producing catalogs brimming with varietal and cultural information. “They always have what I want in stock, so I don’t have to wait. The variety descriptions are excellent,” wrote a gardener with a small plot who’s just getting started. And Territorial Seed is successful nationally, too. “Territorial has good selection across the board, dependable seeds and fair pricing,” said a New England gardener. Additionally, Territorial is one of the only major seed companies that publishes a winter catalog, which is of tremendous interest to food gardeners in areas with mild winters.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
Gardeners of all skill levels enjoy trying new crops and varieties, and many look to mail-order seed companies to add to the adventure. “Nichols Garden Nursery always has something new and interesting, plus they continue to carry my old favorites,” said a veteran gardener from the Southwest. A Mid-Atlantic gardener noted, “The family warmth of Nichols shows in the care they take with each order, and they have taken a stand against treated and GMO seed.” A gardener from the Midwest with more than 20 years of experience summed it up this way: “When I’m looking for old-world heirlooms or just plain fun, Nichols Garden Nursery is my favorite.”
Those in search of undiscovered garden pleasures often find them in packets from Renee’s Garden, which is also a valued source for garden-worthy annual flowers. “The Renee’s Garden catalog introduced me to favorite new crops, including ‘Trombetta’ squash and ‘Garden Babies’ lettuce,” said an experienced gardener from the Southwest. A Midwestern gardener with 20 years of experience praised Renee’s “combo packs” that include three varieties of lettuce, squash, tomato or pepper.
The Top 15 Vegetable Seed Companies
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Winslow, Maine)
- Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, Iowa)
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Mansfield, Mo.)
- Burpee Seeds and Plants (Warminster, Pa.)
- Territorial Seed Company (Cottage Grove, Ore.)
- Seeds of Change (Rancho Dominguez, Calif.)
- Ferry-Morse Seed Company (Fulton, Ky.)
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Mineral, Va.)
- High Mowing Organic Seeds (Wolcott, Vt.)
- Fedco Seeds (Waterville, Maine)
- Nichols Garden Nursery (Albany, Ore.)
- The Cook’s Garden (Warminster, Pa.)
- Botanical Interests (Broomfield, Colo.)
- Renee’s Garden Seeds (Felton, Calif.)
- Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (Grass Valley, Calif.)
Organic Seeds Off the Rack
One sour point for some seed shoppers was shipping cost, but you won’t pay a cent if you pick up packets at retail stores you often visit. Even big-box stores now carry organic and heirloom seed from Burpee, Ferry-Morse, Cook’s Garden and others, or you can look for more specialized selections at garden centers and health food stores. Food-minded gardeners may find racks from Renee’s Garden at gift and gourmet shops. Food co-ops and independently owned health food stores often have displays from regional seed companies, such as Territorial in the West and Southern Exposure in the East. (Each company’s website includes a store locator button.) Or, maybe you’ll simply have to answer your doorbell: Renee’s, Botanical Interests, John Scheeper’s Kitchen Garden Seeds, Seeds of Change and other seed companies offer school fundraiser programs.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers vote for the best vegetable seed companies based on value, performance, ethics and fun.