Our favourite seed sup­pli­ers

If you’re look­ing for in­spi­ra­tion for this year’s crop of an­nu­als and veg­eta­bles, take a look at our se­lec­tion of the best seed sup­pli­ers

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS SORREL EVER­TON

Our pick of the best seed com­pa­nies to help you plan this year’s crop of an­nu­als and veg­eta­bles

Flow­ers CHILTERN SEEDS

The Chiltern Seeds cat­a­logue is al­ways tempt­ing with a se­lec­tion of in­spir­ing im­ages. Cul­ti­var choice is ex­cel­lent and de­scrip­tions al­ways help­ful. You might try Lob­u­laria mar­itima ‘Paletta Salmon’ – a new colour­ing that brings a lease of new life to this tra­di­tional bed­ding favourite. There’s a se­lec­tion of seed for green ma­nur­ing plants, too. Look out for the com­pan­ion veg­etable cat­a­logue sport­ing char­ac­ter­ful il­lus­tra­tions and a sim­i­larly good range of cul­ti­vars. chilternseeds.co.uk

MR FOTHERGILL’S

An ex­ten­sive range of flower and veg­etable seeds, in­clud­ing potato, onion and gar­lic sets. Plants­man Gra­ham Rice writes a reg­u­lar blog for the web­site, which pro­vides use­ful dis­cus­sion on some aspect of Mr Fothergill’s of­fer­ings. mr-fothergills.co.uk

GREAT DIX­TER

If you’ve vis­ited this iconic gar­den, you’ll have been de­lighted by its sheer ex­u­ber­ance, colour and range of plants through the sea­son. The nurs­ery of­fers flower seeds from its own stock cho­sen by the staff and stu­dents as notable. Seed is then har­vested fresh by hand and sup­plied in glas­sine bags. The range in­cludes some of the plants that de­fine Dix­ter, such as the ex­cep­tional Amaran­thus and Pa­paver ‘Lau­ren’s Grape’. great­dix­ter­shop.co.uk

HIG­GLEDY GAR­DEN

Grower and owner Ben­jamin Ran­yard tri­als a se­lec­tion of flow­ers at this field in Corn­wall. He then sells a range of seed specif­i­cally for the cut­ting patch – some­times work­ing with florists to en­sure the best range. The fo­cus is on tra­di­tional an­nu­als and bi­en­ni­als, cho­sen for their range of colour, form, tex­ture, longevity, and stem strength and length. Ben is also ac­tive on so­cial me­dia and en­cour­ages re­sponse from his cus­tomers, which acts as a source of use­ful ad­vice. The Hig­gledy web­site also has plenty of grow­ing tips and a monthly plant­ing guide. hig­gledy­gar­den.com

PLANT WORLD SEEDS

Ex­ten­sive range of seeds for flow­ers and veg­eta­bles but also trees and shrubs and grasses – many of them rare and un­usual. It stocks 209 cul­ti­vars of tomato alone – rang­ing from the won­der­fully coloured to the beau­ti­fully shaped. Be­spoke pack­ets are avail­able should you want to mark a spe­cial oc­ca­sion with your own seed se­lec­tion. It ships around the world. plant-world-seeds.com

PLANTS OF DIS­TINC­TION

A small, fam­ily-run busi­ness based in Suf­folk that has built up a good range of both flower and veg­eta­bles that ri­vals some of the larger, more com­mer­cial seed com­pa­nies. plantsofdis­tinc­tion.co.uk

SARAH RAVEN

Sarah is renowned for her care­fully cu­rated col­lec­tions of tra­di­tional flow­ers for her cut­ting gar­den. Her seed se­lec­tion is rel­a­tively small but you can be as­sured that those she has in­cluded are good ones. Sarah’s col­lec­tions are also tempt­ing for the com­bi­na­tion plant­ing ideas they of­fer. Cal­en­dula of­fic­i­nalis ‘Touch of Red Buff ’ is new to her list this year and caught our eye. sarahraven.com

SPE­CIAL PLANTS

Plantswoman Derry Watkins runs a fan­tas­tic nurs­ery in a hid­den val­ley near Bath. Her plant se­lec­tion is im­pec­ca­ble and you’ll al­ways find some­thing of in­ter­est there. Added to which, she sells a range of flower seed too. Of par­tic­u­lar note is her fresh seed. These are only avail­able sea­son­ally for seeds that need to be har­vested and planted when fresh to en­sure ger­mi­na­tion. Sign up for an alert to make sure you don’t miss the mo­ment. spe­cialplants.net

THOMP­SON & MOR­GAN

Es­tab­lished in 1855, Thomp­son & Mor­gan has a wide range of seed for flow­ers and veg­eta­bles, reg­u­larly win­ning awards for its of­fer­ings. You’ll find plenty of choice on cul­ti­vars and good de­scrip­tions. Some seed are avail­able on seed tape for easy plant­ing. Thomp­son & Mor­gan is also now work­ing with potato ex­pert Alan Ro­mans. His se­lec­tion of seed pota­toes is well worth not­ing. thomp­son-mor­gan.com

UNWINS

An­other of the big all-rounders with a wide range of seed – many of­fered as part of spe­cial deals – so worth keep­ing an eye out for sea­sonal pro­mo­tions. Unwins is best known for its range of sweet peas, and has an on­go­ing breed­ing pro­gramme and ex­ten­sive sweet pea tri­als each year. unwins.co.uk

Veg­eta­bles HER­ITAGE SEED LI­BRARY

Run by Gar­den Or­ganic, the Her­itage Seed Li­brary is a mem­bers-only re­source that of­fers a se­lec­tion of rare, hardto-get-hold-of, her­itage veg­etable seed – many of which have been lost to stan­dard seed cat­a­logues. The aim is to main­tain as much ge­netic di­ver­sity as pos­si­ble and en­sure these un­usual veg­eta­bles con­tinue to be grown. You can also opt to be­come a guardian your­self and pro­vide seed for the li­brary and its mem­bers. hsl.gar­de­nor­ganic.org.uk

JEKKA’S HERB FARM

The award-win­ning grower, ex­pert and herb-gar­den de­signer, Jekka McVicar’s knowl­edge of grow­ing herbs is se­cond to none. This is per­haps the best range of culi­nary herb seed any­where, in­clud­ing salad herb seeds plus herb col­lec­tions in beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated pack­ets, per­fect as in­spir­ing gifts. jekkasherb­farm.com

KINGS SEEDS

Much of Kings Seeds stock comes from its own 300-acre farm. Good se­lec­tion of veg­eta­bles and flower cul­ti­vars, in­clud­ing an or­ganic range of

veg­etable seed. It also stocks the range from Suf­folk Herbs. kingsseeds.com

MARSHALLS

A good all-rounder, with plenty of choice cov­er­ing a range of dif­fer­ent veg­eta­bles. The duo packs, with two com­ple­men­tary cul­ti­vars, are a great way to dis­cover more of the va­ri­ety avail­able within one veg­etable type and ben­e­fit from an ex­tended har­vest­ing sea­son or vari­a­tions in flavour. marshalls-seeds.co.uk

MOLE SEEDS

This fully in­de­pen­dent seed mer­chant has a good range of seeds in­clud­ing or­ganic veg­eta­bles – in fact the ma­jor­ity of its flower seed are un­treated too. Al­though whole­sale, it will sup­ply any­one from large com­pa­nies to in­di­vid­ual en­thu­si­asts (min­i­mum order value £7.50) with the ad­van­tage here that seeds are avail­able in a range of larger quan­ti­ties – so per­fect if you are part of an al­lot­ment club or gar­den­ing group. whole­sale.mole­seeds.co.uk

PENNARD PLANTS

Pennard of­fers over 600 va­ri­eties of heir­loom and her­itage veg­eta­bles – again with a fo­cus on flavour. You may have seen its award­win­ning dis­plays at gar­den events such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which of­ten show an ex­u­ber­ant al­lot­mentstyle gar­den, grow­ing ev­ery­thing from tra­di­tional or for­got­ten favourites to more un­usual new­com­ers. Good se­lec­tion of kales for those fol­low­ing its re­turn to favour, but want­ing to try some­thing other than the stan­dard green curly kale avail­able in shops. pen­nard­plants.com

REAL SEEDS

Founded by a pair of growyour-own ob­ses­sives who started sup­ply­ing seed as a re­sult of their own ex­ten­sive tri­als of grow­ing veg­eta­bles for above all flavour. All seeds are non-hy­brid (open pol­li­nated) and you are en­cour­aged to save your own seed from one year to the next. This year it has rein­tro­duced the pea ‘Mag­num Bonum’, a tall, her­itage, main­crop cul­ti­var dat­ing back to 1872, with pretty, white flow­ers and an ex­cel­lent sweet taste. re­alseeds.co.uk

SEA SPRING SEEDS

A veg­etable seed com­pany based in Dorset. Ac­cord­ing to no-dig ex­pert Charles Dowd­ing it stocks ‘only seeds that grow into de­cent flavours and have use­ful growth char­ac­ter­is­tics, such as yield and ear­li­ness of har­vest.’ It also has a par­tic­u­larly good range of in­ter­est­ing chill­ies. sea­springseeds.co.uk

SEEDS OF ITALY

You’ll be hard pressed not to be drawn in to the colour and flavour on of­fer in a whole range of tasty Ital­ian cul­ti­vars. The de­tails of prove­nance too re­mind you that lo­cal spe­cial­i­ties re­main im­por­tant and can de­fine re­gional cook­ing. Seeds of Italy is the sole UK sup­plier of Franchi Seeds – one of the world’s old­est seed sup­pli­ers es­tab­lished in 1783 – and now has a shop in north Lon­don where you can buy seeds and other Ital­ian gourmet goods. There’s a range of or­ganic, chem­i­cal-free seed avail­able, too. seed­sofi­taly.com

SUTTONS

Nice, clear web­site that makes it easy to find what you want from Suttons’ all-round range of seeds. It also works with eth­nob­otanist James Wong to of­fer a range of veg­eta­bles and ed­i­ble flower seeds that James has cho­sen for their fo­cus on flavour and high nutri­tional value. suttons.co.uk

TA­MAR OR­GAN­ICS

The com­pany started as a small or­ganic gar­den in 1994 and now of­fers a good range of prod­ucts for the or­ganic gar­dener, in­clud­ing veg­etable seeds, herbs, onion sets and seed pota­toes. This year it has added to its range with edamame beans, a pinkstemmed pak choi Vivid Choi and fur­ther mi­cro greens. Flower seed is also avail­able. tamaror­gan­ics.co.uk

THOMAS ETTY

Known for his im­pec­ca­ble eti­quette, you’ll be charmed to re­ceive Thomas Etty Esq’s reg­u­lar mis­sives, re­spect­fully sug­gest­ing seeds to buy and sow. You’ll find an in­ter­est­ing range of her­itage cul­ti­vars among his choice. There is, how­ever, a minu­mum order value of £12.50. thomasetty.co.uk

Wild­flow­ers EMORSGATE SEEDS

Run by com­mit­ted botanists and ecol­o­gists to pro­mote the im­por­tance not just of grow­ing more wild­flow­ers but of work­ing with na­ture. Its wild­flower and grass mixes are grouped by habi­tat, such as meadow, and then by soil type so you get the right mix of species for your area. Ex­cel­lent whether you’re cre­at­ing a large meadow area or sim­ply want to in­crease the bio­di­ver­sity in your gar­den. wild­seed.co.uk

PICTORIAL MEAD­OWS

Seed mixes for an­nual and peren­nial meadow-style plant­ing. These were orig­i­nally de­vel­oped by Nigel Dun­nett from his work at the Univer­sity of Sh­effield and are aimed to pro­vide im­pact of colour and lots of nec­tar-rich flower sources. They suc­ceed on av­er­age gar­den soil, mak­ing it much eas­ier to get re­sults. pic­to­rialmead­ows.co.uk

Other re­sources SEED SWAPS

If you are look­ing for rec­om­mended, lo­cally suited, un­usual cul­ti­vars of flow­ers and veg­eta­bles, try re­search­ing com­mu­nity seed swap­ping events. These are a great op­por­tu­nity to meet other grow­ers, hear first-hand of grow­ing ex­pe­ri­ences and dis­cover new favourites.

MIL­LEN­NIUM SEED BANK

And fi­nally, a word for the won­der of seeds and the bio­di­ver­sity they rep­re­sent. The Mil­len­nium Seed Bank, at Wake­hurst Place in Sus­sex, is Kew’s project to con­serve 25 per cent of the world’s seeds by 2020 to en­sure against fu­ture ex­tinc­tion. See the web­site to find out more and dis­cover the amaz­ing sci­ence be­hind seeds. kew.org/wake­hurst

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