Illustration by Sarah Young

Seed catalogues for 2017

A list of recommended seed suppliers for growing vegetables and the kitchen garden.

The urge to change your life for the better is strongest in January. For once, gardeners have it easy. Seeds offer a cheap path to reinvention. For a few pounds you can have a whole new gardening self, reflected in a vegetable plot that is wildly different from last years. What kind of gardener will you be in 2017? This is a list of trusted seed suppliers including award-winning nurseries and specialist growers who can offer rare vegetable varieties and unusual plants.




Chiltern Seeds

Supplier of rare and unusual flower, herb and vegetable seeds since 1975, the long slim catalogues (one for flowers and one for veg) are perfect for slipping into your bag before a bus journey. Written with more wit than most catalogues there is always something new to tempt you as well as old favourites (many marked up as best sellers so you can see what’s working for other growers). Will this be the year to try tortarello or Armenian melon (Cucumis melo var. flexuosus), an elongated, cucumber-like fruit from southern Italy? Pet-owning gardeners will love the special mixtures designed to keep tortoises, guinea pigs and rabbits happy. Tel 01491 824675,



Supplying seeds since 1880, Dobies has a fully illustrated catalogue with simple, clear descriptions making this a helpful place for beginners to start looking. If you want colour in the potager, ‘Purple de Provence’ is a stunning, green and purple striped globe artichoke, while ‘Tinty’, a dark-red ‘Hispi’-style, hearted cabbage, is another eye catcher. Container gardeners might like the chilli pepper ‘Fish’, with striped fruits and unusual variegated leaves and the tiny, fruited ‘Red Currant’ tomato, a heavy cropper tolerant of lower sunshine levels. Tel 0844 9670303,



While not strictly speaking a seed merchant, this rare plants nursery has a vegetable list packed with unusual edibles perfect for the kind of gardener who likes to grow the exotic (and cook Japanese and Chinese food). I have my eye on two of its pepper plants Zanthoxylum simulans, the Sichuan pepper, and Zanthoxylum piperitum, the Japanese pepper or sansho, which grows well in containers. Edulis also has a long list of far-flung tubers and alliums of all kinds, such as the Egyptian tree onion and the bee-attracting Allium cyathophorum var. farreri, also known as the Gansu leek. Tel 01635 578113,


Franchi Seeds of Italy

It’s hard not to get carried away with this sumptuous list (where else would you find ten different cultivars of borlotti bean?). I especially adore the section on chicory and radicchio, which grow well in wet and windy conditions. With their beautiful spears, rosettes and frilled heads of red, white and green you almost wonder who needs flowers when you can have vegetables like this? Packets are large and generously filled with seeds. If you really can’t make up your mind, the Restaurateurs Pack of 12 different types of chicory and radicchio, should keep you in bitter leaves all summer long. Tel 020 8427 5020,


Garden Organic

Garden Organic is the trading name of the Henry Doubleday Research Association, which was set up in 1954 and named after the Quaker smallholder who first brought the more nutrient rich Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) to Britain. Once you join you can pay an extra £18 a year to become a member of the Heritage Seed Library, which currently holds about 800 rare, heirloom or currently commercially unavailable vegetable seeds. Members get to choose six free packets of seeds from the catalogue, which is sent out in December each year. Tel 024 7630 3517,


The Herbary

Although it offers a full range of organically produced vegetable seed, this supplier specialises in herbs and especially beans from around the world, that have ‘been successful in sustaining families during difficult times’, and are specifically aimed at the home grower. Become a bean club member and you can order from an eclectic mix of heritage cultivars, such as ‘District Nurse’, ‘Major Cook’ or ‘Brita’s Footlong’. For the novice herb grower it offers a selection of 12 essential herbs and plenty of advice on how to achieve success. Roots of horseradish, thyme, comfrey and tarragon are also available.


Higgledy Garden

Higgledy Garden is a Cornish cut flower producer that also sells seeds. The beautiful hand-printed, art nouveau-inspired, brown paper packets make a lovely gift. If you want to sow a strip of cutting flowers or experiment with the benefits of companion planting, you’ll find plenty of advice here. The annual chrysanthemum Ismelia ‘Rainbow’ is one jubilant red-white-and-orange-striped offering, or for those looking to maximise growing space the climbing nasturtium Tropaeolum ‘Scarlet Munchkin’ would look wonderful in a courtyard garden (and you can add the flowers to salads too). The Edible Flower Collection is a good buy at ten packets for £15.60 plus free p&p.


Kings Seeds

Kings supplies vegetables and flowers seeds and also incorporates Suffolk Herbs. With a huge selection of sweet peas this is a cottage gardener’s treasure trove. Herbalists can go mad with an encyclopaedic selection from agrimony to yarrow and plenty in between. Look out for Chenopodium bonus-henricus recently added to the Slow Food Foundation’s Ark of Taste as an indigenous flavour worth preserving. For the thick-fingered gardener its salad seed tapes make life easy. Tel 01376 570000,


The Organic Gardening Catalogue

This is the official catalogue of Garden Organic (see left) so buying its seed helps to support Garden Organic’s work of spreading the good news about organic gardening. It’s open to all, but Garden Organic members get a 10 per cent discount. The catalogue is a joint venture with Surrey-based Chase Organics, so alongside seeds it also offers shredders, comfrey cuttings, green manures – all the things you need to make healthy soil and fantastic fruit and vegetables. Tel 01932 878570,


Real Seed Company

This family-run business describes its eclectic list modestly and accurately as, ‘vegetable seeds that germinate quickly and grow well’. Its selection of untreated seeds is filled with vegetables you won’t find anyway else, such as the vivid Chinese green choi sum (sold here as Japanese tsoi sim). All seeds are chosen because they really work for the home grower. I swear by its super-early tomatoes and courgettes. All its seed are non-hybrid and orders include tips on how to save your own seed for the future. Tel 01239 821107,


Tamar Organics

This wholly organic supplier offers a wide range of seeds, sold as individual packets (with a very strong squash and pumpkin selection) and as collections. Its collection packs (for easy flowers and salad) offer good value and a mouth-watering new addition is a collection of its own favourites, including beetroot ‘Jannis’, courgette ‘Cocozelle’, lettuce ‘Maravilla de Verano’, rucola rocket and squash ‘Green Hokkaido’. Tel 01579 371098,

Words Jojo Tulloh


Illustration Sarah Young