Where to find seeds pt 2 – exotic, heritage, on-line & local


Heritage blue and white beans - these remind me of precious birds eggs.

Long, dark evenings are the perfect time of year to plan your growing and order seeds. Last week I shared my enthusiasm for seed swaps. We’re spoilt for choice for other great place to get seeds: here are a just few:

1. Exotic Seeds

Supermarkets stock a small fraction of the vegetables that it is possible to grow in this country.  Until recently, I never knew that lemon grass, wasabi, dudi gourds, sharkfin melons, or tomatillo can all be grown here – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Growing your own is a great way to add variety to your taste buds and discover vegetables from another continent.

If you’re interested in growing Asian or Caribbean food or simply experimenting with something new, a good place to start is the Sowing New Seeds website. This includes an invaluable list of seed suppliers that sell unusual seeds – find it at the end their December 2011 Newsletter.

2. Heritage Seeds

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s difficult to find heritage veg seeds in the UK, the reason is EU regulation. Any seed sold commercially in the UK must pass stringent tests. These tests costs thousands of pounds, making them uneconomic unless you can sell the seed in large quantities. The result? Many wonderful and delicious heritage varieties of vegetable are illegal to sell.

Garden Organic neatly side step this legislation with their heritage Heritage Seed Libary. For an annual membership fee you can select five packs of heritage seeds of your choice. This is a wonderful way of supporting our seed heritage – and gaining access to a unique and interesting collection. Find out more at: http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/hsl/

Heritage varieties do appear in other catalogues, too. Suppliers recommended to Vertical Veg for their heritage selections (yet to be tried myself) include: Thomas Etty, Nicky’s Nursery, Otter’s Farm and Pennard Plants  I’ll certainly be browsing these websites for ideas myself over the next few weeks – thanks to Esculent et cetera for the links.

Seed swaps are also a place to find heritage seed varieties, although as @HortusLudi reminded me on Twitter: ‘you need to interrogate people at seed swaps about provenance & possible crosses – as can be v.unreliable’.

3. Other Online Seed Companies

There are many wonderful online seed companies. Here are a few personal favourites (there are many others):

Real seeds: great selection for home growers (includes fun and unusual selections – like the brilliant climber fat baby achocha) and, best of all, each pack comes with instructions on how to save the seed. Brilliant.

Franchi Seeds of Italy – generous packs and lots of interesting varieties. Personal favourites include salsola (green salad veg a bit like samphire – easy to grow once you get it to germinate) and tromboncino squash.

Tamar organics: organic seeds, attractively priced, good selection, friendly service.

Thompson and Morgan: huge selection, particularly useful if looking for a specific variety.

4. Local outlets

As wonderful as all these online opportunities are, sometimes nothing beats talking to a real human being –  face to face – who can give you sound local advice. Places to seek out good advice locally include:

Garden centres: I started my last post by sharing my confusion at the ‘Wall of Seeds’ in a big London garden centre. Of course, some will offer excellent advice, particularly the smaller, independent or family run businesses. Check out your local ones to find out.

Allotment sheds: look up your local allotments – many have ‘sheds’ that sell seeds and other useful bits and pieces, usually at discounted prices. Some are open to the general public, some not  – so do check in advance.

Community Food Growing projects: some of the larger community food growing projects (like Organiclea in North London) will buy seeds in bulk and sell to people in their local community. This is great way meet local growers, buy seeds and support a community project at the same time.







4 comments… add one

  • Slightly surprised you have not mentioned Kings Seeds or Suffolk Herbs, particularly as they offer a good range of Organic seeds. Kings are also a rare breed, in that they are seed producers rather than just being a seed house. Great Value and great seeds

    • Hi Morris, thanks for this. I use Suffolk herbs (part of Kings Seeds, I think?) quite a bit and they are indeed another good one for the list. I also mention them in my post – Six fun container crops to grow – as they were the supplier of my Tromboncino squash!

      • They do indeed own Suffolk Herbs. I am a little biased as I worked for them 15 years ago and I love the idea that there is still a major seed producer in this country. If you are ever looking to write a story about seed production then I am sure they would show you around (Les Day is the MD). It is fascinating and Late July- August is a good time as the crops are coming in. You can also see all the seed foiling and testing they do. When you have done it yourself, it is great to see the experts at it!

        • That’s a great idea, thanks Morris.


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