The world’s greatest seed catalogs: Part two

WASHINGTON — In the new year, there are several noteworthy seed catalogs to check out to enhance your garden. In last week’s Garden Plot, I covered five good ones to check out in 2015. Now it’s on to round two with another five you won’t want to miss.

The chef’s choice for garden goodies

The Cook’s Garden catalog proclaims that it specializes in “seeds and plants for gourmet gardeners.” They must also choose for good looks, because a lot of the varieties featured are as ornamental as they are edible.

New for 2015 is an intriguing hybrid tomato named Umamin, said to offer the unique, distinct perceptions of sweet, sour, bitter and salty in the perfect combination; Patio Paste, a Roma tomato designed to stay well-behaved in a container but provide lots of meaty fruits with few seeds for sauce making; and “Ruby Glow” lettuce, a brand new romaine whose riot of deep purples, reds and greens signals exceptional nutrition. (Eat by color!)

The Cook’s Garden is also the source for the Pinnacle line of herbs, which are artisanal herbs grown on pristine mountaintops in the Alleghenies to coax out the maximum percentage of aromatic oils, and thus flavor. (You will find Pinnacle plants growing in my very own garden; they are great!)

Check it out or request a catalog at

Oh, and say my name (“Mikey”) at checkout and they’ll take $10 off your order.

Grow your own Halloween — and Thanksgiving

Gurney’s claims to be America’s “most complete seed and nursery company.” And they do seem to offer every type of plant imaginable. Among the “exclusives” in their 2015 catalog is the intriguing Giant Magic Hybrid Pumpkin, which is designed to ripen two weeks earlier than most pumpkins, with the strong stems and smooth skin that Halloween carvers seek out plus tasty flesh for pumpkin-pie making.

If late blight has had you crying the “I lost my tomato crop” blues, try Defiant, a half-pound tomato with exceptional yields and resistance to that persistent (and devastating) disease.

Chile heads might want to check out Hot Paper Lantern, a habanero bred to fully ripen to a bright and fiery red even in a cool, short season.

And I’m intrigued by Skyscraper, a multi-flowered ornamental sunflower (not a big, single-head, oilseed type) that reaches 12 feet in height.

Check it out or request a print catalog at Bonus: WTOP listeners can take $25 off their Gurney’s order by using the special code 0550510.

A luxury book masquerading as a catalog

I guess The David Austin Handbook of Roses for 2015 is a catalog of English roses for sale, but it sure looks and reads more like an upscale rose book to me: 112 pages, saddle-stitched (like a hardcover book), full color, with many of the featured roses taking up a full page with their description and a giant, drop-dead gorgeous image.

This visual delight concludes with several pages of great information for gardeners: a list of roses recommended for specific situations, such as shady spots or creation of a blooming hedge; design tips; planting and pruning advice, and a rundown of the world’s finest international rose gardens. I’m leaning more toward “good book” every minute.

But decide for yourself. They’ll send you a copy for free at Oh, and no spray worries here. Every rose they offer is bred to be “healthy,” which is unassuming Brit-speak for “highly resistant to disease.”

Old varieties preserved

Gardeners interested in old, traditional and heirloom varieties should acquaint themselves with the Seed Savers Exchange, in Decorah, Iowa. Seed Savers was originally a gardener-to-gardener, grower-to-grower exchange that gave plant preservationists a way to share their saved seed with others so inclined. The idea was that the endangered, and often unique, varieties they had perhaps saved from extinction could be grown in a variety of climates and locales to ensure their future safety.

Still a non-profit enterprise that houses one of the world’s largest and most important repositories of rare varieties, the Seed Savers Exchange has expanded to directly sell seeds and plants to home gardeners. You can still become a member, but you can also just buy heirloom seeds and start your own family tradition.

Learn more or request a catalog at

Old varieties celebrated

If you want to see just how beautiful heirloom flowers and vegetables can be, check out the Baker Creek Seed Company catalog, which they call their “rare seed” book, and other people just call “gorgeous.”

Now, it’s a little weird to talk about new varieties when the basic topic is 100-plus-year-old heirlooms, but the following are new to Baker Creek.

One featured player in this year’s catalog that especially caught my eye is Blue Gold Berries — a cherry tomato whose fruits are a beautifully variegated purple and gold. There’s also a super-nutritious black carrot from India. It’s actually a very deep purple. (Hey—that would make a good name for a band!)

And there’s a sweet potato that’s been in the news quite a bit lately: Okinawa Purple, an ancient variety whose violet colored flesh is said to contain more natural brain nutrients and cancer-fighting compounds than blueberries!

Check it out or request a Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog at

Follow @WTOPLiving and @WTOP on Twitter.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up