Specialty Seed Companies: Try Something Different

Whether you love peppers or wildflowers, there's a seed company just for you.
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Renee's Garden

Renee's Garden

Renee's Garden provides classic heirloom vegetable, flower and herb seeds.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Lynn Coulter

Image courtesy of Lynn Coulter

Renee's Garden provides classic heirloom vegetable, flower and herb seeds.

It’s fun to go into a garden center or nursery and browse through the seed racks, exploring all kinds of vegetables, fruits, and flowers that are easy and fun to grow. But don’t overlook specialty sellers, who are often online, and who are a great option when you’re ready to branch out and try growing varieties that aren’t readily available or even especially well known.

Many heirloom varieties, for example, are hard to find locally. Big seed companies may not carry them if they don’t sell enough to be economically feasible. That’s when you can turn to specialty companies, which are usually smaller, yet very responsive to offering what their gardening customers are looking for.

Pepper Joe’s  - If you’ve got a taste for hot stuff, check out Pepper Joe’s big selection of the hottest peppers around.  This is the place to order seeds for ghost peppers, jalapenos, cayennes, chilies, habaneros, anchos, poblanos and even sweeter, milder bell peppers. Look for ‘Italian Pepperoncini” a popular pickling pepper, and, if you dare, try ‘Carolina Reaper’ proclaimed the “New World’s Hottest Champ” pepper in 2012. The ‘Reaper’ averages a fiery 1,474,000 Scoville Heat Units, a measurement of spicy heat produced by the amount of capsaicin in the fruits.

Annie’s Heirloom Seeds – This seed selling family lives on a small farm in central Michigan. Only heirloom varieties are sold—no hybrids, and no genetically modified seeds. (Genetically modified seeds, or GMs, are created through genetic engineering that involves complex technology. Hybrids result when compatible varieties of plants are crossed; hybridization can happen naturally in the wild.)  Check out Annie’s “seed banks,” which are kits containing a variety of edible heirlooms, such as beans, peas and squash. The seeds are dried and packaged to stay viable for 5 to 10 years. Each kit, which comes in a waterproof bucket for storage, contains enough seeds to feed a family of four or more. Seeds are also sold in bulk or by the packet.

Select Seeds – Antique Flowers – Here you’ll find flower seeds, some of which are rare and hard to find, and some that are heirloom varieties that originated 50 or more years ago. Look for a good selection of fragrant flowers, such as ‘Chocolate Daisy’ and datura ‘Blackcurrant Swirl’. You can shop by collections of cottage garden annuals, flowering vines and more. Select Seeds also offers plants and seeds for perennials, edibles, herbs and organics.

Artistic Gardens/Le Jardin du Gourmet – Based in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, this family-owned seed company opened in 1954 and currently sells herb, vegetable and flower seeds, as well as shallots, garlic, herb and perennial plants, and even Christmas wreaths. If you’re looking for seeds of blue, strawberry, ornamental Indian or Hopi blue popcorn, you’ll find it here, along with some unusual culinary and medicinal seeds, including French dandelion, Chinese licorice, Japanese parsley, and sweet cicely. Explore the site to find other unusual things to grow.

Wildseed Farms - Texas hill country is home to this family seed business, said to be the largest wildflower farm in the country. Seeds are harvested from this working farm, which you can visit to see poppies, bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes and many other wildflowers in bloom (something is flowering almost year-round, say the owners). Shop for wildflowers packaged especially for your growing region, along with the seeds of native grasses and herbs. Wildseed Farms also carries a good selection of sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias.

Kitazawa Seed Company – Specializing in Asian vegetable seeds, Kitazawa, launched in 1917, says it is the oldest seed company in America. Vietnamese herbs such as Culantro Ngo gai, also called Mexican coriander; Kinh Gioi, or Vietnamese mint; and large leaf sorrel seeds are available here, along with such oddities as molokeyhia (also called Egyptian spinach) and anise-flavored perilla (Shiso). Gourmet chefs and ethnic cooks will enjoy reading about the many varieties sold here.

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