Which Seed Catalogue To Use?

Well, it is that time again. The seed catalogues are pouring in and we have to decide which ones to use for garden seeds. This has always troubled me. But there are so many catalogues to choose from. In 2007, Mother Earth News estimated there were 88 garden seed catalogues in the US. They missed a few. Dave’s Garden lists 7,042 mail order gardening companies worldwide.

But this year, I have taken it upon myself to be a bit more analytical. I decided to define what I want in a seed catalogue, collect data, and then rate them. My criteria include:

  • Comprehensiveness – it is just easier if I can order most of my seeds from one catalogue.
  • Beauty of presentation – yes, I know I can go online, but every year, I like to spend time reading my seed catalogues. We all need beautiful magazines to enjoy. I enjoy my seed catalogues and Berkshire HomeStyle magazine. With my catalogues, I enjoy looking at the pictures, imagining what it would look like in my garden (never as nice as in the pictures), and getting excited about trying something new. Digital information cannot take the place of a beautiful catalogue/magazine.
  • Economy in presentation – do you have to jump around in the catalogue when you are trying to decide what beans to buy, or is everything sensibly organized? And is there a good, easy to find index?
  • Information about planting and growing – even though I have been growing from seed for more that two decades, I do like to be reminded about how to grow different items.
  • Quality of the seeds – which company has the best seeds? Price – this is something I can study – read on.

Comprehensiveness

Throughout this analysis, I am limiting my study to catalogues I have received in the mail that include both vegetable and flower seeds. In terms of comprehensiveness, number of pages is relevant. Table 1 lists my catalogues with number of pages. Johnny’s, with 201 colored pages is in a class by itself.

Table 1. – Catalogues and Page Numbers

Catalogue

Pages

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

201

Territorial Seed Company

167

Burpee Gardening

147

Pinetree Garden Seeds

131

Park Seed Co.

131

Thompson & Morgan

130

The Cook’s Garden

109

Jung Seeds & Plants

99

Harris Seeds

89

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery

65

R.H. Shumway’s

63

Vermont Bean Seed Company

63

Totally Tomatoes

59

John Sheepers

59

Beauty

I know, the eye of the beholder. But Johnny’s, Burpees, and The Cook’s Garden are certainly pleasing to the eye. And John Sheepers, with its hand drawn pictures, is also quite attractive. Shumway’s and Pinetree are probably the other end of the list.

Economy (saving me time) in Presentation

Where is the index? I don’t mind back page (Cook’s), inside front cover (Harris), or in the mid-section with adjacent to the ordering page (Sheepers). But Shumway, Gurney’s, and Territorial, where is your index? Without an index, a catalogue is okay if crops are listed alphabetically and there is no jumping around. Shumway drives me crazy!

Information About Planting and Growing

Johnny’s is best. I also like the summary table found in the mid-section of the Park catalogue.

Quality of the Seeds

This is a real problem. Because I cannot do a comparative test of germination rates, I draw a blank here. Some people swear by certain companies. But there are so many variables involved. Assuming all seeds are just as good is probably not a good assumption – I just don’t know. I feel the same way about fertilizers/soil supplements.

Pricing

 

I decided to focus on price per seed for popular types of selected crops. In cases where a catalogue did not carry the seed type I was looking for, I chose a type that looked similar. Getting prices per seed in some catalogues was quite difficult – they often quote price per packet or per weight measure. Is it deliberate obfuscation? I think so. Minor offender – Pinetree; major offender – Shumway.

Overall Price Rating

Table 2 provides summary data for the catalogues on all items chosen. Specifically, it indicates what percentage the catalogue price was above or below the overall average. So, for example, it show’s that Johnny’s seed price for beans was 52.7% above the average  bean price while Pinetree’s was 55.4% lower. The overall is a simple arithmetic average of the 7 crops. Blanks occur where the catalogue did not carry an item. Don’t bet your house on the accuracy of these numbers, but they are pretty good.

Table 2. – Prices % Above/Below Item Average

 Catalogue

Bean

Tomato

Cucumber

Lettuce

Pepper

Herb

Flower

Overall

Pinetree Garden Seeds

-55.4%

-36.0%

3.4%

-47.7%

-41.3%

-5.7%

-19.9%

-28.9%

Harris Seeds

-47.9%

-34.2%

-32.7%

26.0%

-43.0%

-29.8%

-26.9%

Totally Tomatoes

-27.7%

-17.4%

-24.2%

-54.4%

8.1%

-23.1%

The Cook’s Garden

-28.3%

29.0%

-67.5%

-22.2%

Jung Seeds & Plants

82.0%

-69.3%

-25.8%

-30.7%

-50.3%

-0.6%

-9.4%

-14.9%

R.H. Shumway’s

-45.4%

16.7%

-23.4%

20.5%

-38.4%

-14.0%

Thompson & Morgan

-31.7%

36.8%

-47.5%

17.7%

-6.1%

Park Seed Co.

-1.0%

-4.1%

-31.1%

-15.3%

8.1%

21.1%

-3.7%

Territorial Seed Company

-35.8%

52.6%

14.1%

23.1%

-27.8%

-60.6%

11.4%

-3.3%

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery

9.7%

-8.9%

31.1%

-20.7%

44.8%

11.2%

Vermont Bean Seed Company

-48.3%

55.0%

4.6%

32.7%

4.9%

66.9%

-10.0%

15.1%

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

52.7%

56.4%

28.9%

2.1%

20.7%

1.7%

27.1%

Burpee Gardening

4.4%

50.3%

55.8%

17.3%

50.3%

24.8%

33.8%

John Sheepers

52.6%

35.7%

-40.7%

124.2%

1.6%

34.7%

You clearly pay for the high quality catalogues. Maybe Johnny’s should charge for their catalogue (I would pay $3 for it each year) and reduce their seed prices.

Details on each crop are given below.

Beans

For bean pricing, I used Emerite, Fortex, Maxibel, Provider, Kentucky Blue, and Contender seeds. Pinetree was clearly the lowest priced provider, at 55.4% below the average price. It is notable that Maxibel, Provider, and Contender are lower priced than the other two.

Table 3. – Bean Seed Prices

 

 

 

 

Kentucky

 

% +/-

Catalogue

Emerite

Fortex

Maxibel

Provider

Blue

Contender

Ave.

Pinetree Garden Seeds

0.01

0.02

-55.4%

Vermont Bean Seed Company

0.02

0.03

0.02

-48.3%

Harris Seeds

0.01

0.02

-47.9%

R.H. Shumway’s

0.01

0.01

0.01

-45.4%

Territorial Seed Company

0.02

0.02

-35.8%

Park Seed Co.

0.02

0.03

0.02

-1.0%

Burpee Gardening

0.05

4.4%

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery

0.02

0.01

9.7%

John Sheepers

0.08

52.6%

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

0.07

0.04

0.02

52.7%

Jung Seeds & Plants

0.04

0.02

0.01

0.25

0.01

65.6%

Ave. Price

0.05

0.05

0.02

0.02

0.05

0.01

 

Tomatoes

For seed pricing, I used Big Beef and Roma. Jung is lowest priced in tomatoes, with Pinetree, Harris, and Totally Tomatoes also quite reasonable. Big Beef is more than twice as expensive as Roma.

Table 4. – Tomato Seed Prices

% +/-

Catalogue

Big Beef

Roma

Ave.

Jung Seeds & Plants

0.01

-69.3%

Pinetree Garden Seeds

0.03

-36.0%

Harris Seeds

0.01

0.05

-34.2%

Totally Tomatoes

0.08

0.02

-27.7%

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery

0.13

0.01

-8.9%

Park Seed Co.

0.08

-4.1%

John Sheepers

0.12

35.7%

Territorial Seed Company

0.10

0.08

52.6%

Vermont Bean Seed Company

0.09

0.09

55.0%

Ave. Price

0.09

0.04

Cucumbers

For Cucumber pricing, I used Diva and Orient Express. Harris. Park, and Jung all provided reasonably priced cucumbers.

Table 5. – Cucumber Seed Prices

 

 

Orient

% +/-

Catalogue

Diva

Express

Ave.

Harris Seeds

0.06

-32.7%

Park Seed Co.

0.07

-31.1%

Jung Seeds & Plants

0.07

0.07

-25.8%

Totally Tomatoes

0.08

0.08

-17.4%

Pinetree Garden Seeds

0.10

3.4

Vermont Bean Seed Company

0.10

0.10

4.6%

Territorial Seed Company

0.10

14.1%

R.H. Shumway’s

0.11

16.7%

Burpee Gardening

0.13

50.3%

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

0.15

56.4%

Ave. Price

0.09

0.09

 

Lettuce

For lettuce, I used Arugula and Black Simpson. Pinetree again has the best prices.

Table 6. – Lettuce Seed Prices

 

 

Black

% +/-

Catalogue

Arugula

Simpson

Ave.

Pinetree Garden Seeds

0.002

0.002

-47.7%

John Sheepers

0.003

-40.7%

Thompson & Morgan

0.003

-31.7%

Jung Seeds & Plants

0.004

0.002

-30.7%

The Cook’s Garden

0.003

0.002

-28.3%

Totally Tomatoes

0.002

-24.2%

Territorial Seed Company

0.006

23.1%

Harris Seeds

0.010

0.001

26.0%

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

0.006

0.004

28.9%

Vermont Bean Seed Company

0.005

0.005

32.7%

Burpee Gardening

0.008

0.004

55.8%

Ave. Price

0.005

0.003

Peppers

For peppers, I used Jalapeno and Big Bertha for pricing. Totally Tomatoes is the low-priced winner. TT is interesting. It pretty much focuses on tomatoes and peppers.

Table 7. – Pepper Seed Prices

 

 

 

% +/-

Catalogue

Jalapeno

Big Bertha

Ave.

Totally Tomatoes

0.02

0.09

-54.4%

Jung Seeds & Plants

0.01

0.11

-50.3%

Pinetree Garden Seeds

0.05

0.09

-41.3%

Territorial Seed Company

0.06

0.10

-27.8%

R.H. Shumway’s

0.09

0.08

-23.4%

Park Seed Co.

0.04

0.17

-15.3%

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

0.10

0.13

2.1%

Vermont Bean Seed Company

0.11

0.12

4.9%

Burpee Gardening

0.20

0.04

17.3%

The Cook’s Garden

0.17

29.0%

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery

0.16

0.13

31.1%

Thompson & Morgan

0.18

36.8%

John Sheepers

0.22

0.28

124.2%

Ave. Price

0.10

0.13

Herbs

For herbs, I used Basil and Rosemary for pricing. Pricing here does not really mean much since for both herbs, you always get far more seeds that you will ever use as a home gardener.

Table 8. – Herb Seed Prices

 

 

 

% +/-

Catalogue

Rosemary

Basil

Ave.

The Cook’s Garden

0.005

-67.5%

Territorial Seed Company

0.006

-60.6%

Thompson & Morgan

0.009

-47.5%

Harris Seeds

0.014

0.009

-43.0%

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery

0.020

0.013

-20.7%

Pinetree Garden Seeds

0.020

0.018

-5.7%

Jung Seeds & Plants

0.020

0.020

-0.6%

John Sheepers

0.036

0.010

1.6%

Totally Tomatoes

0.018

8.1%

Park Seed Co.

0.018

8.1%

R.H. Shumway’s

0.020

20.5%

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

0.015

0.030

20.7%

Burpee Gardening

0.030

0.030

50.3%

Vermont Bean Seed Company

0.047

0.024

66.9%

Ave. Price

0.025

0.016

Flowers

For flower pricing, I used Geraniums, Marigolds, and Petunia Wave. Shumway had the best average prices, although I could not find a seed price for the Petunia Wave. These seeds are pricey, with Harris and Pinetree having the best prices.

Table 9. – Flower Seed Prices

Petunia

% +/-

 Catalogue

Geraniums

Marigold

Wave

Ave.

R.H. Shumway’s

0.078

0.078

-38.4%

Harris Seeds

0.200

0.067

0.238

-29.8%

Pinetree Garden Seeds

0.059

0.295

-19.9%

Vermont Bean Seed Company

0.317

-10.0%

Jung Seeds & Plants

0.295

0.074

0.330

-9.4%

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

0.070

0.395

1.7%

Territorial Seed Company

0.063

0.495

11.4%

Thompson & Morgan

0.708

0.030

17.7%

Park Seed Co.

0.350

0.118

0.395

21.1%

Burpee Gardening

0.525

0.099

0.350

24.8%

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery

0.111

44.8%

Ave. Price

0.359

0.077

0.352

 

Shipping and Handling

You can get killed here, particularly if you have a small order. Thompson & Morgan are advertising no S&H costs. In Table 10, I have listed the catalogue S&H costs for an order of $20.

Table 10. – Shipping and Handling Costs

 

Shipping

Catalogue

$20

Thompson & Morgan

$0.00

R.H. Shumway’s

$4.00

Totally Tomatoes

$4.95

Jung Seeds & Plants

$4.95

Park Seed Co.

$4.95

The Cook’s Garden

$5.95

Vermont Bean Seed Company

$5.95

John Sheepers

$6.00

Harris Seeds

$6.25

Pinetree Garden Seeds

$6.95

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery

$6.95

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

$6.95

Burpee Gardening

$6.95

Territorial Seed Company

$7.50

Valuable Website for Catalogue Choice

I strongly recommend Dave’s Garden Watchdog for catalogue choice. Since 1994, the Garden Watchdog has reviewed 3,705 companies. 52,877 comments have been posted (37,248 positive, 6,101 neutral, 9,528 negative) by 27,501 customers. Amazing! Reassuring! Overall, 70% of the comments have been positive. In Table 11, I list the percent of positive comments for my catalogues. For any company having less than the 70% positive comment average for the site, I would be careful.

Table 11. – Garden Watch Dog Comments

Catalogue % Positive
John Sheepers

100%

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

88%

Territorial Seed Company

88%

Harris Seeds

80%

The Cook’s Garden

77%

Pinetree Garden Seeds

74%

Totally Tomatoes

65%

Jung Seeds & Plants

64%

R.H. Shumway’s

59%

Vermont Bean Seed Company

55%

Burpee Gardening

53%

Park Seed Co.

49%

Thompson & Morgan

47%

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery

41%

I hope this helps!

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