I Like Seed Catalogs; I Love Fedco


Fedco2It's once again that time of year when I am simultaneously enchanted and overwhelmed by the choices I have in my forthcoming 2011 vegetable garden. I tend to read every word of at least four or five catalogs.  But once again, Fedco reminds me why it gets most of my business, despite the lack of glossy photographs, despite the fact that it sits on cheap newsprint: It's the only catalog that really charms me.

First of all it has a voice. It's personal. It's opinionated. It's not sterile and corporate, and neither is my vegetable garden. I look forward to founder CR Lawn's letter every year, which freely dispenses gardening wisdom. Here is how CR reconciles two wildly opposed gardening seasons in the Northeast, the horrible 2009 and the magical 2010, in this year's catalog:  "As Joe Kurland, my neighbor in the Colrain, MA hill country averred shortly after I moved into the area, 'There is no such thing as a normal year here.' And probably not where you farm or garden either."


But you can also count on some politics from CR, too: "Even if we wished, we can't go back to an economy based on unsustainable levels of credit. We lack the means and we lack the confidence. On our farms, trickle-down may be a good way to irrigate, but in our economy it is only a good way to irritate. No wonder our political discourse leads us to one sullen ill-mannered impasse after another!"

The variety descriptions don't pussyfoot around either.  The catalog is not afraid to sway you from one variety to another, but will tell you what has proved the best tasting in the Fedco people's gardens, their friends' gardens, their customers' gardens. Of course, that doesn't mean any particular variety will prove the best tasting in MY garden, but I like to know about other gardeners' experiences. I like to know that there ARE gardeners behind a seed catalog.

These people are also cooks and eager eaters, too.  I like learning that the flower buds of 'Bordeaux' spinach are tasty braised, or that root parsley adds a parsley/celery note to soups, or that 'Amplissimo Viktoria' peas make a great hummus. This is very important information to a vegetable gardener, more important arguably than the cultural information that other catalogs focus on.

At the same time, the selection is really good. At 137 pages long, illustrated with no giant photographs, but just amusing old-timey drawings and etchings, it will give you plenty of entertainment, both on the couch and in the garden.


  1. My husband and I were just having this same conversation! Like you, we pore over (and order from) a number of catalogs–our first departure from Burpee was Seed Savers, then Johnny’s and Baker Creek, now Southern Exposure and Fedco. Each has its own niche, its own vibe, and we’re definitely moving more toward Fedco for all the reasons you mention.

    Even more exciting for us is that our CSE and favorite environmental learning center, Genesis Farm, grows and contributes seed to Fedco. Since we volunteer at Genesis and may even start seed banking for them next year, it’s exciting to be a small part of the process.

  2. I’ve always said that people will flip through a magazine looking at the pictures, scan the headlines of the newspaper but they read every single work in a plant catalog (sometimes over and over again).

    Our local online group, organized around GardenWeb, gets together every winter to share seeds, roots and tubers along with lunch and garden success and failure stories. It started out years ago as a way to split seed packets with friends but over time it has morphed into each of us collecting and cleaning seeds from our own garden plants. We also have two huge plant swaps during the warmer parts of the year. Good gardeners will share. Anyone complaining about the cost of growing food just isn’t doing it right.

  3. I must admit, I’m completely addicted to the Johnny’s catalog. I order plenty from them (as well as from a few others) but I love all the other cultural info they provide. I find it to be a really comprehensive, and easy resource for figuring how many weeks before/after frost to start seeds, plant outside, etc.

  4. The best catalog (although not seeds) for crazy rants and amusing descriptions is Arrowhead Alpines. I love that Bob sells plants that he hates and will tell you why. Or maybe he forgets why half-way through the description. You’re guaranteed to bust out laughing while reading the catalog.

  5. Fedco is my favorite seed catalog,hands down. You’ve said exactly why better than I ever could. Fedco also has this slightly subversive feel, like it’s meant for gardening anarchists or something. I appreciate that.

  6. American seed and nusery company catalogs from the 19th century wrote the same kind of message we read in today’s catalog.
    Here are a couple of examples, both also from Massachusetts.

    The B. K. Bliss Company from Springfield, MA wrote in its seed catalog of 1860:

    “We take much pleasure in presenting to your notice the Eleventh Edition of our Seed Catalog, which we feel assured, upon examination, will be found to surpass any work of the kind heretofore published in this country.”

    The Charles M. Hovey Company, from Boston, in its 1834 nursery catalog wrote:

    “In offering the following Catalogue to the public, we take the opportunity to make a few remarks in relation to the nature and objects of our business.
    The present state of Agriculture, and more especially Horticulture, has, in common with many others, attracted our attention, and we have not remained mere observers, but with what little information we possessed, have made every exertion to become able practitioners. ”
    So the catalogs were important to the companies, and also was an active involvement in garden experience.

  7. Garden Rant turned me on to Fedco last year. I ordered from them online. I just got my first real paper catalog from them last week and my heart is still pounding.

    I don’t think I need any other seed catalogs ever again, and I am passing the word to my Master Gardener group.

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