One of the joys of ordering from mail order or on-line sources is that you can find things that are out of the ordinary. Seed rack suppliers need to stock items that everyone knows and that will grow for the average gardener. Not every gardener wants to grow the same things, though. Tastes differ in vegetables, herbs and flowers. Skill levels vary, too; everyone can grow a marigold but, while marigolds are beautiful, some people want a challenge. There are sources out there for the experienced gardeners and the seekers of the out of the ordinary.
Most gardeners know Thompson & Morgan ( www.tmseeds.com), the English seed suppliers. They have a reputation for being expensive- and they usually are. But check the items you’re interested in against other sellers. In the past I’ve found them to be less expensive per seed than others about 25% of the time. But that’s not the reason to buy from them- it’s that they have an incredible selection of flowers. They also have herbs and vegetables, but it’s the flowers where they shine. They have, for instance, the best selection of sweet peas I’ve ever found. They come in just about every color you can imagine- white, pinks, apricots, hot, shocking cerise, almost black purples and maroons, orange, lavenders, stripes and ruffles, most with a heavy, old time scent. They also have many perennials species, including penstamons, salvias, many digitalis, columbines and primulas, and some of the fashionable new colors of echinaceas. Houseplants, vines, grasses, blue poppies, annuals of all kinds and even Venus Flytrap seeds fill out the catalog.
Less expensive is Pine Tree Seeds (https://www.superseeds.com/default.php ). The seed packets they sell are much smaller than average- but really, who can use 30 zucchini plants? For a small gardener, especially one who wants to grow a wide variety of plants in their space, it’s an excellent resource. They shine in their vegetable selections; they have more different types of vegetables than any other catalog I’ve found. For instance, they have 28 varieties of snap beans- and that’s not counting the ones listed in their ‘Around the World’ section, where they have separate listings for Asian, Latin American, French, Continental, Italian and Middle Eastern vegetables. If you’re looking to grow ingredients for ethnic cuisine, this is THE place to go. But even though vegetables are their forte, don’t over look their herb and flower seeds. They have some unusual offerings there, too. They also sell a wide variety of plants and bulbs, soap making supplies and books, many at marked down prices.
For the truly unusual, try J.L. Hudson, Seedsman (www.JLHudsonSeeds.net ). This black and white catalog has no showy color pictures, only a few line drawings, but it has things you will not find in any other place. It’s true you’ll have to go through a lot of entries to find something that will grow here- a lot of the offerings are from Australia or Africa and are just not hardy up here- but it’s worth it when you find something. I’ve bought a number of beautiful lily and iris species from them, as well as shrub and tree seeds. Some of what they carry is unknown in cultivation, so it can be hard to find information on them other than what is in the catalog. It’s exciting to sprout something that you know has never been grown in your area before!
Another place to look for unusual seeds is plant societies. They frequently host seed exchanges or sales. Not all plant societies are for single species (like the hosta, clematies or daylily societies are); there are some devoted to the native plants of an area (usually by state) or type of plants, such as succulents, alpines or the like. Go to http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1357.pdf for a list of plant societies.