Cook’s Garden, Renee’s Garden Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Garden porn. That’s what seed catalogues are. Those fabulous pictures, the descriptions of an almost overwhelming variety of possibilities despite what for most of us is a limited amount of space, coupled with our winter-fed optimism untested by the reality of the coming year’s growing season. The thing about the catalogues is they often offer new varieties of things you won’t see at your local garden center’s racks. At least for a while.

Cook’s Garden catal
ogue is one of my favorites since they offer seeds that are specifically meant for the plate, which is where much of my gardening is focused. I had spent years hunting for what I considered the best haricot vert – bearing in mind of course that taste is subjective – and tried a lot of so-called haricots verts looking for that slim, beany, less-than-pencil-thin specimen. Finally, I found Cook’s French bush bean. Prolific plants hold little dark green haricots for days instead of growing thicker and tougher by the minute. The beans also store well for days in the crisper if you happen to have too many at once and don’t want to freeze them. Cook’s also sells a sweet pepper the same size as the mildly hot peppadoes you see in some olive bars at Whole Foods. Perfect for stuffing for hors d’oeuvres or snacks. Cook’s seeds are pricier than some – usually run between $3.95 and $4.95 a packet, but they offer some great new things each year, as does their sister company, Burpee. Worth considering if you like to experiment in the kitchen and amaze your family and friends.

Burpee is where I first found lemon pepper seeds as well as Lemondrop cherry tomatoes, both of which are prolific producers. Both are now available through other seed catalogues as well. The germination rates for both Burpee and Cook’s seeds are usually quite good, and the packets are sealed well, so if you want to plant some this year and save some for next, the seed is usually just as viable the following year or two provided you’ve closed the packet up and stored it well. Burpee seed packets generally run between $3.95 and $5.95. They also offer some organic seeds.

Renee’s Garden Seeds offers very mild ‘Suave’ Habaneros that are 500 scoville units as opposed to 300,000 for habaneros. The Suaves, which I use both fresh and roast and freeze for winter soups, have that distinctive habanero taste (I’ve never actually been able to taste a full-blown habanero, but they smell the same). I chop the fresh Suaves into crab salad, onto omelets, into cheese spread. Delicious. Renee also sells Pot of Gold chard, which I tried last year. Touted for containers, it’s prolific, easy to maintain and you can cut and cut and cut. Renee’s also sell watermelon radish, whose watermelon pink interior gives it the name. These radishes are large – the size of a medium turnip – mild and delicious as a simple snack or cut into tomato aspic or topped with a little bit of smoked salmon with a squeeze of lime. Renee’s also offers a number of seed mixes, which, if you like a mix, is an economical way to get several varieties for the price of one. The packets are generally less than $3 each.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an employee-owned company in Winslow, ME is for serious gardeners (actually, who isn’t serious about wanting to grow good things well?). It offers a terrific array of stuff including a lot of unusual varieties. They have a number of Asian/oriental greens, and offer a good selection of organic seeds, cover crop seeds as well as plenty of supplies for starting, season-stretching, tools, and more. Packets average $3.45-$3.95, but you can also order much larger quantities since they cater to CSA’s and truck farmers as well as home gardeners.

Pinetree Garden Seeds in in Glousester, ME, while a fair distance from our growing zone, nonetheless has lots of stuff that will thrive her, including a wealth of heirloom tomatoes, and their packets, which are perfect for home gardeners, are cheap — 95 cents – $1.80 generally. A great buy.

I’ve ordered for years from all of these catalogues and like them all. The customer service, in my experience, is quite good.

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