You say tomato, I say heliotrope


 Last year I reported that White Flower Farms had published
its first catalog with vegetables on the cover. Select Seeds has not gone that
far, but I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to see the last page of
the 2010 catalog devoted to heirloom tomato seedlings. For the last six years
or better I have been ordering seedlings of old-fashioned flowers such as white
heliotrope, climbing petunia, nicotiania mutabilis, and various unusual
rudbeckias, pelargoniums, salvias, and violas. I never get seeds (no luck with them), but they’re
the only place I can find most of this stuff in plant form. They also devote an
entire section of their catalog to fragrant flowers.


This old-fashioned heliotrope is more dependable than the darker nursery variety.

 You can buy heirloom tomato seedlings everywhere these days.
In Buffalo, our co-op nursery Urban Roots has been offering at least a dozen
varieties for the last five years. If I bought any, that's where I would buy them. But it’s always difficult to find
interesting annuals, and I rarely can in our local nurseries. If I were a seed
whiz and had more sun, I would also be growing such cottage garden beauties as
black double poppies, pimpernels, cornflowers, and blue woodruff—all offered by
SS and by many of the great seed companies that we rave about here. But I’m
happy with the plants. On summer evenings, the climbing petunia scents the
entire garden.

There are countless wonderful seed companies who specialize in
edibles—Baker, Seed Savers’ Exchange, Thompson & Morgan, Jung’s, and many
more. I get most of them; they’re beautiful. But this is the only catalog I
have been able to find that has interesting annuals, and I depend on it for
foliage and fragrance every summer. If they’re in trouble and needing to add an
edible focus, then I’m in trouble too. Add edibles if you must, SS, but keep growing and adding to the flowers!

I do like the combination of "Blue Horizon" ageratum with the tomatoes.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Elizabeth, thank you for the tip about Select Seeds’ plants. I love heliotrope, too. There is a country nursery near me that used to do an amazing array of sophisticated annuals. But they seem to have grown less interested in their business in recent years and last year the selection was downright disappointing.

    I’d give the peony-flowered poppies a try. They are so easy–just toss the seeds out on the snow. Then thin the little blue-green rosettes after they come up. They grow into big plants, so I give each one at least a 6-inch radius.

  2. Michele, be sure to order for as late a delivery date as you can and get them planted as quickly as possible. They don’t like to sit around long, and that can be difficult when you are worried about a late frost!

    Otherwise, wonderful company.

  3. I assume you have heard of Annie’s Annuals out here in California? No need to worry about sources for interesting annuals and perennials with a nursery like Annie’s, and they have a great mail order business as well. I’d assumed this was going to be a post about ordering seeds, but for those who prefer plants, this is a great resource for you.

  4. I love Select, they’re another of those companies that sends the most spectacularly healthy plants. I won’t be ordering any veg stuff from them since I start my own, but I’m always happy to see their catalog and see what’s new for the season.

  5. That white flowering, old fashioned Heliotrope sounds lovely. I suppose those companies you mentioned don’t ship seedlings to Canada. I will have to look for some seeds.

  6. The color of the flowers pictured in this essay is the same as the lilacs we had in New England when I was a child. Their aroma was so special the memory has stayed with me for over sixty years.

    I was so grateful for those lilacs.

    They were as tall as the second story of the house they graced and served as a barrier between the house and an embankment. I’ve seen lilacs since, of course, but never ones so tall and so thick as these. And, the aroma, well, how does one duplicate a memory?

  7. I have bought plants from Select and been pleased. I would not buy seeds from them (and I buy seeds from seven other catalogs) b/c they do not tell me the number of seeds in the packet. This year ALL seed amounts have gone down and all seed prices have gone up.

  8. I love Select Seeds. Lots of weird wild stuff. I’ve only ordered seeds, and had good luck with most – was disappointed that my ‘Lauren’s Grape’ poppies didn’t appear, but I suspect my hens could be the culprits. Four o’clock ‘Marakesh’ was gorgeous, as was the Clary sage ‘Blue Denim’- fab with the [edible] Lemon Signet marigold.
    And to commenter Jo: The website lists the number of seeds per gram AND per packet.

  9. So love heliotrope. It’s one of those annuals that seems to be undergoing a renaissance, at least here in Atlantic Canada. I love how some describe it variously as smelling like vanilla, cherry pie, cream soda, root beer, and baby powder. Guess scent is really variable.

  10. I was surprised to see you say that you do not have much luck with seeds. Is this due to a shorter growing season where you live? (I saw that you live in Buffalo)

    Thanks for the advice on Select Seeds, I will definitely give them a look!

    Also, I have never grown heliotrope in my flower beds. Maybe I will give them a try this spring. They look beautiful.

  11. Tomato is the most popular vegetable among the people who love eating vegetables.I am also a big fan of tomatos.I love eating this in every spicy dish.Here are the great tips to grow this vegetable.

  12. Good to know, Elizabeth, thanks. We would love to have healthy seedlings without the bother of starting them ourselves, as fun as that is, for there is limited room in the greenhouse. Seed Savers offers seedlings of a few prairie type plants that I have had good luck with in the past, but Select sounds like it has a better variety. Will give them a look.

  13. Elizabeth, if you’re having trouble with those easy seeds, I assume you’ve never tried Winter Sowing in milk jugs in the snow? Easy-peasy!
    Take a look at
    If you still have questions, there is a forum on GardenWeb devoted solely to WSing.
    You should give it a try – I bet you’d be pleasantly surprised by the results! Besides, Buffalo is perfectly suited to it.

  14. Thanks everyone for the tips on seeds. I totally believe you that it is easy and I would do it more often, but I think my real issue is that I have too much shade. Most of the cottage garden flowers require full sun, especially from seed. Very few spots in my garden have that–I just don’t have the big open, airy spaces that these flowers really love.

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