Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Seed Catalogues

It's that time of year of year again when allotment gardeners sit at home with a hot cup of tea and peruse piles of seed catalogues whilst dreaming happy dreams of all the things they want to grow next season. Seed catalogues are very curious in that they vary widely even though they all do basically the same job. So I thought I'd do a quick rundown of some of the catalogues I have this year, and give them each a "star rating", out of a possible maximum 4 stars.

I have compared the prices for a "standard shopping basket" of a packet each of Ailsa Craig tomato seeds, Enorma runner beans, Partenon courgettes, Little Gem Lettuce, and Early Nantes carrots (I chose the varieties because they are very common and available in almost all catalogues).

The bottom line is - I'm certainly going to be placing an order with the Real Seed Catalogue.


Dobies

*** Great Choice, Great Prices

Dobies is a well-established name in gardening, selling seeds and plants directly through their catalogues. I might have this wrong, but I don't think you can get Dobies seeds in garden centres and shops. Their catalogue is glossy with lots of photographs and detailed descriptions of each variety. Probably because they're so large their prices are very low.

Fruit and Veg Yes
Flowers and ornamentals Yes
Garden Equipment Yes
Plants and seedlings Yes
Online ordering Yes
Standard shopping basket price £7.75 inc. P&P



The Organic Gardening Catalogue

*** Reasonable Prices For Organic Seeds, Especially Good for Books and Equipment

The Organic Gardening Catalogue is a charity, and is the official catalogue of the Garden Organic (HDRA), Europe's leading organic gardening organisation. The catalogue is not glossy but is illustrated with colour photos and detailed descriptions of varieties. It sells organic seeds (and bulbs, sets etc.) and organic gardening equipment such as beneficial insect shelters, organic pest control and so on. It also sells an interesting range of books.

Fruit and Veg Yes
Flowers and ornamentals
Yes
Plants and seedlings No
Online ordering
Yes
Garden Equipment Yes
Standard shopping basket price £10.52 inc. P&P, but you get a 10% discount if you join Garden Organic which costs £28 for individual membership.



Mr Fothergills

*** Good Choice, Good Prices

Mr Fothergills is another long established name in gardening. Its glossy catalogue has flowers on one side and if you flip it upside down and back to front the veg is on the other side. Lots of colour photographs and descriptions of varieties. They're not cheap, as you'll see from the price of a standard shopping basket. But if you order 5 non-offer items you can order any packet of seeds valued at up to £1.69 for 10p, and if you order 15 items you can order another packet of seeds valued at up to £2 for just 10p.

Fruit and Veg Yes
Flowers and ornamentals Yes
Garden Equipment Yes
Plants and seedlings Yes
Online ordering Yes
Standard shopping basket price £10.44 inc. P&P (Mr Fothergills don't sell Partenon courgettes so I substituted Tosca)



Thompson & Morgan

** Confusing Catalogue, Confusing Offers, Most Expensive

Thompson & Morgan have been supplying seeds since 1855. Like all the other catalogues described so far it is glossy with full colour photos and full descriptions of varieties. The fruit and veg part of the catalogue is arranged unusually - all the patio vegetables are grouped together on a single page, there is a page for salad (except that patio tomatoes aren't on that page), all the tomatoes are together on a tomato page (except for the patio tomatoes which are on the Patio page, and Gardeners Delight tomatoes which are listen on the Salad page), and almost everything else is listed under Kitchen Garden Favourites. You might like this arrangement but I found it confusing and hard to find specific things I wanted. In fact, I couldn't find Enorma runner bean seeds, Ailsa Craig tomato seeds, or Partenon courgette seeds in the catalogue, which is surprising as those are pretty standard. But I did find them on the website. So a low "ease of use" score for T&M. They're quite pricey too, the most expensive "standard basket" of all the catalogues in this review, although they have a confusing array of offers - the catalogue says "2 free packets of seeds", for example, but when I went through the ordering process online I got one free packet. I don't follow it at all.

Fruit and Veg Yes
Flowers and ornamentals Yes
Garden Equipment Yes
Plants and seedlings Yes
Online ordering Yes
Standard shopping basket price £12.14 inc. P&P


Real Seed Catalogue

**** Rare and Heirloom Seeds at Very Good Prices

This is one of my favourites. The Real Seed Catalogue is printed entirely in black ink on non-glossy paper, even the orange cover which is nonetheless very attractive and based on classic 19th century typographical designs. The whole operation is run by Kate and Ben (who have a new baby Josephine) and represents a private collection of rare and heirloom seeds, all non-hybrids (no F1s here). All the expected types of veg are available (tomatoes, lettuces etc.) in interesting and unusual varieties. And they also sell strange and rare things, such as amaranth and mustard greens for the home gardener. They even encourage customers to save their own seeds instead of buying it each year, and provide instructions on how to do so. I think that's extremely cool. Instead of the standard shopping basket, I have picked a typical example of carrots, lettuce etc for the price comparison here, because they only sell unusual varieties. They're surprisingly cheap. So cheap in fact that my shopping basket didn't reach the minimum order of £8 before P&P. I'll just have to buy something else to make up the difference - hmm, what shall I choose...?

Fruit and Veg Yes
Flowers and ornamentals No
Garden Equipment No
Plants and seedlings No
Online ordering Yes
Standard shopping basket price £8.27 inc. P&P (all varieties were substituted as The Real Seed Catalogue only sells unusual and heirloom varieties)


Chiltern Seeds

*** Interesting Selection and Quirky Catalogue

Chiltern Seeds are another unusual seed company who eschew colour photos in their catalogues, in favour of careful descriptions and quirky cartoon illustrations. Like The Real Seed Catalogue, they specialise in rare and heirloom varieties, but unlike TRSC they also sell F1 hybrids. Their prices are comparable to Mr Fothergills and The Organic Gardening Catalogue, and significantly cheaper than Thompson & Morgan.

Fruit and Veg Yes
Flowers and ornamentals
Yes
Garden Equipment
No
Plants and seedlings No
Online ordering
Yes
Standard shopping basket price £10.43 inc. P&P (I substituted Polestar for Enorma runner beans and Nero Di Milano for Partenon courgettes)



D.T.Brown & Co.

**** Cheapest for a Standard Basket of Seeds

D.T.Brown & Co. are approaching their centennial as a seed and bulb supplier. Their non-glossy colour catalogue has far more fruit and veg than flowers (which is what I like to see), and is full of photos and detailed descriptions of varieties. They have a small selection or organic seeds, but most of their seeds are conventionally grown. They are the cheapest catalogue in this review, and if you order 5 packets of seeds you can choose a Centennial Collection for 5p, after 12 items you can pick a free packet worth up to £1.50, and if you order 20 items you get another Centennial Collection for 5p, 25 items and that's another free packet worth up to £2.50. Not to be sniffed at.

Fruit and Veg Yes
Flowers and ornamentals Yes
Garden Equipment Yes
Plants and seedlings Yes
Online ordering Yes
Standard shopping basket price £7.50 inc. P&P (I substituted Defender for Partenon courgettes)

10 comments:

Kitchen Witch said...

We ordered from the Real Seed chaps last year, and indeed the year before - they were really very good, and the seeds did well. Don't know if you've already seen them, but their amaranths are well worth a go - masses of easy-to-look-after leaves to add into salads when small, or boil up like spinach later on. Full marks, frankly!

donna said...

This is a really useful post, thanks Mel. I've only started growing from seed this year so just picked up packs from garden centres and woolies!wasn't sure where it was best to look as far as catalogues were concerned.

Mike said...

I've had a look at some of these suppliers' online catalogues, and, on the whole, "Wow! You guys pay a lot for seed." On average more than double what I would pay for similar seed here!

The only one that looked really interesting was the Real Seed catalogue, plus I really love what they're doing and would like to support it, since I'm hoping/aiming to do something similar here in SA. Not to mention that they have some wonderful-sounding varieties on offer. Sadly, though, they don't ship outside the EU :-(

Sophie said...

This is great Melanie - I was just pondering on growing some exciting things next year (just in our back garden) but had no idea where to start! Those two overflowing compost bins may yet be put to good use...

Multiveg said...

Ordered from Real Seeds - beat the strike! Ordered from Simpson's Seeds but got caught in the strike (didn't take too long to get here!). Ordered from Org. Gardening Catalogue - came within a few days last week (though waiting for parsnips).
I quite like drooling over the T&M catalogue but am put off by the price.
I have ordered from DT Brown and T&M in the past. My dad used to order through his allotment association, seeds from Marshalls.

Robert said...

I have odered from all the catalogues listed but last year decided to try a new company I found and placed my order with nickys seeds online at www.nickys-nursery.co.uk Surprised you have never tried them.

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