My token seed catalog



The reason this is my favorite seed catalog has nothing to do with seeds. While other gardeners are browsing through Thompson & Morgan, Burpee, Johnny’s, Seeds of Change, Fedco, Baker Creek (a catalog so gorgeous I actually gave it as a Christmas present), Jung, and others, I get them, pass them along to vegetable growing friends, and hang on to the SS catalog. It is the only seed catalog I order from—because it sells plants.

As I mentioned last week, I am always looking for unusual annuals. My urban garden—with its central courtyard and partial shade—has an insatiable appetite for containers and their requisite plants. Which is great because I love container gardening. I just wish there were more and better annuals to fill them. Especially when it comes to shade, nursery annual offerings can be limited, even in the best IGCs. It’s especially ironic here, because every August we are treated to an amazing display of new offerings at the Erie Basin Marina Test Gardens, almost none of which actually make it to area nurseries the following spring.

I will never buy Tony Avent’s T-shirt that says “Friends don’t let Friends Plant Annuals.” I love them for their variety, versatility and season-long interest—when they aren't boring that is. This is where a place like Select Seeds comes to my rescue. They offer four types of heliotrope, none of which are the short-lived stubby variety offered by area nurseries. There’s a new fragrant nicotiana every year, and some gorgeous old-fashioned petunias. The thinking behind Select Seeds reminds me of the way California wine merchant Kermit Lynch insists on carrying the delicate reds of the Loire valley when he could be pushing Australian fruit bombs and overoaked cabs.

Some lucky gardeners actually can plant all the plants I buy from seed, or they can trust them to reseed. Not me, but no matter; it leaves more room to change from year to year. This year, I’m looking at a deep purple nicotiana, some seductive fuschias, several goofy coleus varieties, and more.

Maybe someday I’ll grow seeds, but not quite yet. Oh, and check out the stylish new look for this year's book; their covers were always kind of ordinary, design-wise, but this year they've gone for a slightly cheeky retro look. Likey!

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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 regular 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. Thanks for the heads up about this great catalog. Links to the sites mentioned would really make my day. Yes, that’s lazy.

  2. I do buy seeds, and this is my favorite source. And I buy annuals, mostly at local nurseries, sometimes by mail. Some of them re-seed and function pretty much like perennials–and a lot of perennials die over the hot summer, thus functioning like annuals. Anyone who tries to stop me from planting sweet peas, morning glories, and zinnias is NOT a friend.

  3. I don’t start seeds indoor. I don’t care where I put the flats, one of the fat, fabulous furry felines will find a way into the closed room, the top of the refrigerator, wherever,and plop their plump bodies down for a nap. Just after the little plants are about an inch high.

  4. Just got this catalog the other day and have yet to crack it open … now I have a great reason to do so! Can’t wait to start whipping the new yard into shape while trying to have a decently productive garden this year.


  5. Select Seeds has long been a favorite of mine. Not only for the seeds, but for the plants as well. As you say (and we have the same problem here in the Rochester area), very few cool things ever make it to the IGC’s and you damn sure won’t find them at the box stores. I especially like their selection of fucshia plants; always something delicate or unusual!

  6. I realize that my dry shade ain’t your dry shade but I have good luck with Heucheras, Tiarellas and Epimediums. Some of the hybrids bloom anytime the daytime temps are above freezing which is most of the year around here.

    Whenever I hear someone say something negative about annuals I always blurt out that a garden ain’t a garden without a sunflower (and I’m friends with Tony).

  7. My most favoritist herb catalog/price list is Sandy Mush Herb Farm–I have never seen quite the assortment of mints, thymes, lavenders, and scented pelargoniums as I have there. Ok, maybe at Richter’s, whre they also offer an assortment of pot sizes & flats. Hmm, I don’t seem to manage linkage very well, but that’s the URL. They cannot at this time take orders online–no shopping cart that I can find. I still like them.

    In their intro page they write:
    We have updated our Supplement and Order Form for 2010 and they can be downloaded now. Please don’t forget to download our Handbook for complete descriptions of our plants as well as a plethora of useful knowlege.

  8. For mail-order annuals, have you tried Annie’s Annuals? Gorgeous plants, and she also sells perennials. I find them in nurseries around here so I haven’t mail-ordered.

    For seeds, I love Sample Seed Shop, Tatiana’s Tomatobase, and Sandhill Preservation.

  9. The bees, butterflies and hummers who visit my garden could care less whether they are supping on annuals, perennials, or whatever. Many of their favorites are annuals like tihonia, zinnia and salvias. I will check out Select Seeds.

  10. I’m too cheap to buy plants and have them shipped to me. I do seeds instead. Last year I won the Sony LED garden, so now I have the perfect set up.

    Last year I grew the old fashioned petunias from seed I collected in South Carolina. Divine! The habit isn’t the best–they sprawl everywhere–but the scent is fabulous at night. They are also surprisingly hardy, having survived below freezing temps in my zone 5 garden. Highly recommended.

  11. Well, I’m a seed-starting addict without any desire for a get well program.

    However, I love the idea of buying some plants from Select Seeds and will do that this year on your recommendation.

  12. I HATE HATE HATE HATE the anti-annual movement. Yes perennials are lovely but annuals are too. As for Select Seed, I’m always so tempted to order from them…and then completely forget. Maybe this year will be the year!

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