For hundreds of years, Americans have purchased seeds through the mail

January 6, 2021

During the gold rush, many miners began writing letters to churches back home. They weren't looking for luck; many had struck it rich, while others just wanted to settle down and start a family. They were writing for something more precious than gold: a bride.

The one thing the Wild West didn't have was women. Women advertised as well, and mail-order brides were an important part of settling America.

In the garden we have our own source for mail-order brides: seed catalogs.

For hundreds of years, Americans have purchased seeds through the mail. It made sense because seeds were small and easily shipped; many could be tucked into a letter with no additional postage. Because seeds themselves are not much to look at, you had to trust the seller that indeed the seeds were true to type and would grow. The religious Shakers became quite prosperous selling seeds. Farmers trusted the Shakers, and the Shakers made good on their promise of seeds that germinate and grow.

Many companies today, in order to help save the environment, no longer print paper catalogs and offer their seeds online only. An advantage of ordering online is speedy delivery.

Sand Hill Preservation Center is a genetic preservation seed and poultry business out of Decorah, Iowa. It carries seeds you won't find anywhere else, including 173 varieties of corn, such as Orchard Baby, whose tiny, three-foot-tall plants yield sweet corn in just 60 days. They also carry Reverend Morrows Purple sweet corn. This is a highly productive corn with ears that ripen to a mixture of purple and deep-orange kernels. Since 1999, Sand Hill has offered Yukon Supreme sweet corn, which is ready to pick just 49 days after planting. Its small, four-foot tall stalks produce handsome five-inch ears that are mostly yellow with a few white kernels mixed in. Sand Hill catalog is online at

Seed Savers Exchange puts out a big, full-color seed catalog as well as online offerings at New this year at Seedsavers is Honey Boat Delicata squash (Cucurbita pepo). This stunning, golden-orange, green-striped delicata squash has a rich, nutty flavor. As a bonus it stores well, so it can be eaten throughout the winter. Like all delicata squash, Honey Boat can be cooked right after harvest without curing. The six-foot-long vines produce lots of six- to eight-inch-long, three-inch-diameter fruits that weigh about a pound each. New for 2021 at Seed Savers is the Black Knight Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea), an annual plant that grows to 24-30-inches tall with blue, white, maroon and red flowers that last a long time as cut flowers. You can grow Black Knight in partial shade, where it will attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

High Mowing Seeds ( is for the first time offering Garden Scented Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus). These old-fashioned sweet peas have an intoxicating fragrance lacking in many modern sweet peas. They bloom just 85 days after planting and are ideal for fresh bouquets, hanging baskets, or a garden trellis.

Hudson Valley Seeds puts out a nice colorful catalog. New from Hudson Valley is Torch Tithonia (Tithonia rotundifolia). This is a vibrant native of Mexico, with bright orange-red flowers. Once summer hits, Torch Tithonia puts out tremendous shows of flowers that keep blooming right up until frost. The flowers attract bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and moths. At six feet tall, Torch Tithonia is ideal for the back edge of borders, or plant it in waves for a dramatic look.

This year, take time to pore over seed catalogs, whether in an easy chair or online. The next love of your gardening life might be waiting.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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