How I Shop for Seeds: Catalogs and Online

old seed catalog
This is the catalog one of several seed companies once based in Minnesota.

Within a week or two, the pile of seed catalogs next to my reading chair will be just about to topple over. It’s that time of year—and I love it. Though I’m not a complete Luddite and do much of my work online (ahem, this is a blog), seed ordering seems to require paper and pens.

The reasons I prefer to choose seeds using catalogs are many: the comfort of being able to page through multiple catalogs at once; the feel of the catalog paper and the chance to peruse gardening information without having a hot laptop on my thighs, savoring the images and the descriptions of beans, potatoes and melons that would make a poet swoon, plus I have my special seed ordering system.

Here’s how it works: I wait until mid-January or beyond to even look at the catalogs, just letting them pile up as the anticipation builds. Then some evening—after the Christmas decorations have been removed and preferably with snow falling—I start reading. At my left is a cup of tea and a red pen. On the first pass through the catalogs, I circle all the seeds that appeal to me and rip out the pages on which they are listed. No judgements, just what looks good. In one evening (sometimes two), I’ll have a pile of torn pages and a pile of tattered catalogs.

Of course, my eyes are always bigger than my time, my garden and my skill, so I need to restrain myself. What do I really want to grow and eat? What kinds of annuals do I want to grace my front walk? What will work in my soil and sun and climate? What old faithfuls must I plant and which new things do I want to try? There will be lists and sometimes maps of the garden space. This is—as my father once said about waxing a car—contemplative work. No need to rush.

When the list has been narrowed, it’s time to get practical. I don’t like to order from too many companies, and I have my favorites in terms of quality and customer service. But I usually order from at least three companies. When all the decisions have been made, I rev up the laptop and do my ordering. With the catalog pages at hand, it’s easy to finish this step quickly. Some seed companies do not have catalogs because of the cost involved in printing. I understand that, and if I am looking for a specific seed, I may check out these sites. But still, I hope companies will continue to produce catalogs.

My winter evenings would not be the same without them.


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