Seriously, Thompson & Morgan!


When it came time to buy seeds for the Lake Avenue Elementary School Garden this year, I was delighted to find that a local nursery, an ugly one that stinks of chemicals, carried lots of Thompson & Morgan seeds and lots of interesting varieties.

But for the first time ever, I opened a seed package and thought it was empty…only to discover four ridiculous little seeds stuck to the bottom of the foil package.

The Thompson & Morgan website confirms such stinginess…as in the case of this hybrid eggplant, which is sold six ridiculous seeds at a time. 

I understand that hybrids are more expensive to produce…but really, that much more expensive?  I stopped ordering from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, though I liked the catalog and the stock, because I grew tired of paying $4 for a package that was nearly empty.  Seeds from Italy, in contrast, sends mostly giant packages stuffed full of seeds that germinate and grow beautifully, even in my frigid climate.

I don’t know what the answer is–charge more, label the packages differently so the buyer is aware that he or she are basically buying air? But I do feel that there is little upside in enraging well-meaning gardeners in spring.


  1. T&M here in the UK (and like most if not all of our seed merchants) clearly states the average number of seeds on the back of the packet.

    Quite a few of the seed merchants sell the same varieties here, so it certainly helps with working out who’s giving the best value for money.

  2. I wouldn’t mind if seed companies that sell fewer seeds per package charged less. I usually don’t use all the seeds in any package and they end up in a box in my basement until I decide they’re too old or I have plenty of them or I forget I have leftovers and buy a new package.

    Even so SIX seeds seems a bit ridiculous. They had better have a very high germination rate and a very high grow from new seedling to plant rate!

  3. I have mixed feelings about this. It’s tough to open a packet & find only a handful of seeds in it—no matter if you’ve been giving fair warning or not. It seems all to easy to end up with no viable plants after sowing. On the other hand, I just sowed my first batch of seeds ordered from them and was amazed at the germination rate. The best I’ve seen. So maybe it’s worth it in the end.

  4. I have always loved T&M for the hard to find stuff, and think I’ve always had good quality. But I learned a long time ago that if I can find the variety elsewhere, I’ll get more seeds for less money. Seems to be a theme with them.

  5. I always order from either Seed Savers Exchange or Baker Creek (I won’t use hybrids) and their seed packets have always had more than enough seed it them to use for multiple years.

  6. I have always looked at T & M as a “fancy designer magazine” type of vendor, sure they have an amazing selection, but their cost per seed really shows what it costs to do those glossy packets and plant-porn quality catalog… I don’t buy veg-seed from them at all, just the odd stuff that is too hard to find elsewhere. For vegetable seed I usually find what I want from Botanical Interests and Pinetree Garden Seed.

    But I will admit I have ordered (from a different vendor) a packet of Whitesloania crassa seed for $18 even though I know it will only contain 3 seeds… But it is such an amazingly ugly plant I can’t help myself!

  7. I’ve ordered and bought seeds from many, many different seed companies. T&M, gak! The price per seed cost ratio is enough to make you reel when you calculate the cost. And B&T Seeds, also in ENgland, is also a mixed bag. You have to really look at the grams listed on the packet (or minimum seeds guaranteed). Some of the B&T packets are full, others are in a tiny little clear plastic ziplock. Depends. Renee’s – sigh. Some of the packets I’ve had spotty germination. A couple packets of the mixed tomato seed packet last year, I only got 15-25% germination. THey made good and sent me some replacement packets with better germination rates.

    Franchi Sementi, OMG! The amount of seeds is amazing! A real bargain, great germination rates. J.L. Hudson – always very reasonable prices, extremely wide variety, lots of unique and unusual varieties. Always happy with those guys.

    Just bought a batch of Baker Creek seeds. So far good germination rates. Unfortunately, the snails for to some of my Black Cherry tomato seedlings and wiped out some of this year’s crop. But fair price, TONS of heirloom varieties I’ve never heard of. Can’t wait to see how the Blacktail Mountain watermelon seeds do, as this variety is supposed to do well in Northern gardens and I have a cool coastal climate I need to work with.

    T&M have some neat things, but I search the seed companies on this side of the pond, because the exchange rate with the British Pound is still not that favorable.

  8. Franchi very good seeds. Every package states what’s in it so buyer beware. A seed company a while back tried packing fewer seeds at laower prices…..they failed miserably.

    The TROLL

  9. Funny you should bring this up because I recently purchased generic Ferry-Morse Alyssum and sunflower seeds recently and I got 4 whopping sunflower seeds in one packet, listed at 1.3 grams, and I still have some sunflower seeds from them at 1.5 grams that I am continuing to use. The alyssum was the kicker though, the 2 seed packets were both COMPLETELY EMPTY. Granted, I am sure there were mistakes here, with all the seeds flying off the shelf, maybe their machinery was screwy. Luckily I went back to the store and they let me exchange the alyssum for ones that actually had seeds in them, but the sunflower seeds, all the other ones we could feel through the bags only held about 4-6 seeds too, and I KNOW that 1.3grams is not 4-6 seeds. So, the store didn’t let me exchange those. Writing a very unhappy letter to FM…

  10. I’m with Sara K. I have a small garden and I can’t possibly use all the seeds in a packet. Sure, I can save them, but now that I’ve moved to humidville, I don’t trust them to last as long as they did when I lived in aridtopia, even when I follow all the recommendations for making seeds last. In aridtopia I could trust any seed, no matter how old, but here I’ve had huge packs of seeds be completely worthless a year later. So every year I’m faced with the dilemma: do I buy more seeds despite having packets of the same seeds with hundreds of seeds in them? Or do I not buy new seeds and hope the old seeds are still viable? I’d rather buy seeds every year or two and get a smaller quantity. 4-6 seeds is beyond insane–you need some margin for error, but I wouldn’t say no to 20-50 instead of hundreds.

  11. Does everyone realize that seed producers are not the same as seed catalogs? And there are fewer and fewer unique seed growers every year? The heirloom egpplant you see in 10 or 12 catalogs is probably produced by one or two seed farmers, and those seeds are sold to all the different seed catalogs in bulk – Johnny’s and Fedco get their bean seeds mostly from the same people (Fedco does not buy seeds from Montsanto or any subsidiaries, Johnny’s does). What you are often paying for is the difference between how seed catalog companies are run. Johnny’s, for example, is expensive, BUT their catalog is chock full of indispensable information and they ship on a moment’s notice. Fedco is super cheap and generous, their catalog is a useless and irritating joy to read, and the company has great politics, but it takes them f-o-r-e-v-e-r to ship, they only barely take internet orders (and if you are ordering hundreds of varieties, hand-writing out an order is a pain.)

    So it is worth it to research who’s generous and who’s stingy and why. T&M sounds like a lot of glossy advertising to me, but they might be trying to cover the costs of dealing with what is probably a huge number of very small seed farmers.

    Package labelling would help, might be a good industry standard to push for. Johnny’s always provides estimates and minimums – something those extra dollars they charge allows them to put labor into doing.

  12. Also: Fedco predicted two years ago that seed prices would be rising – it may not be the seed catalog companies’ fault. If the same 75 year old guy is the only one left producing the heirloom seed he’s produced for years, and suddenly he finds demand is up…there’s your answer.

    Anyway, it just seems like it’s hard to judge what’s actually going on without talking to seed companies and seed producers.

  13. Sara K. Store your seed in your refrigerator. A refrigerator is dark, dry, and cool. Perfect for seed storage. You don’t need to take up a lot of room. Put the seed in a plastic grocery bag and put it in the door or a drawer. it won’t take up a lot of room and seed will stay viable, some for years.

  14. If I can’t feel seeds in the packet, it doesn’t get purchased. Mail order, they better sell me what they promised, or everyone on FB, Twitter, and the blogs will know! And woe to the company that won’t make it right — I once stopped buying bulbs from a company I used to do hundreds of dollars in business with a year because they overcharged me $7 and wouldn’t admit it.

  15. I can’t be that grudging against a seed company who makes a mistake once in a while (geez, don’t we all?). Fedco once sent me broccoli that was cabbage. Now who knows if it was the grower that erred or it actually was Fedco or some poor overworked and underpaid packet stuffer who was up all night with a sick kid. You just never know.

    Also, someone above was talking about germination rates, and those are definitely NOT in the control of the seed catalogs. They can test rates, mark the percentages they got, and good places like Fedco and Johnny’s often supply extra seed for low rates, but YMMV. If all the growers of fennel have bad crop conditions, you may just get a crummy germination rate year. And it’s no one’s fault.

    Seeds are also, for all the incredible work that goes into them, remarkably cheap. Of all farmers, seed growers may be the least appreciated and underpaid.

  16. I had forgotten about running into this there are HOW MANY seeds in this packet a few years ago.

    I just buy from Renee’s Garden and via Seed Savers now, No problem.

  17. I am not sure where the main readership of this blog is, but I have a great experience with Territorial Seed in OR, they typically breed for local climate, and have some interesting varieties.

    Their hybrids however do often come with very few seeds. For a home gardener like myself, no biggie, 6 vernonica broccoli hybrid seeds is about right for a single years crop. Old seeds tend to not germinate well for me, especially after 2 years.

    I just wish I knew more about how varieties are created from what parentage and make my own seed. Carrot seed seems like the most expensive, probably because they are bi-annuals.

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