We just can’t help it. Only a few weeks into the new year, with our garden plots and raised beds lying dormant, Southern gardeners are daydreaming of tomatoes, squash, and beans ripening under a hot summer sun. Alas, we can’t yet get our green thumbs into the wintry soil, so we keep them busy flipping through a fresh crop of seed catalogs, happily circling tried-and-true favorites while ever on alert for intriguing new varieties that make us consider if we can squeeze one more cucumber trellis into our patch. (The answer is yes, because that’s what pickle recipes are for.) All this hopeful perusing is where a future garden plan really comes into focus.
Seed catalogs are available from many sources. (A surprising percentage hail from Maine, of all places.) But it stands to reason that Southern gardeners might take advantage of the varieties and wisdom offered by the producers of regionally based seed catalogs. After all, they’ve already proven many of their offerings under growing conditions likely similar to your own.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Per tradition, SESE’s 2023 cover depicts cheery garden gnomes enjoying warm-weather pursuits. (Last year, they paddled a stream aboard peppers fashioned into adorable kayaks.) Inside, among eight hundred varieties of vegetables, fruits, and flowers, are twenty-eight newcomers, including the enticingly dubbed Utopian Ultracross Collard and the Florida Conch Southern Pea. Some 60 percent are certified organic, and Southern heirlooms abound. The tomato section is especially impressive and colorful—so try to control yourself. A sunburst icon helpfully denotes the many seeds that are well-suited to the Southeast. No wonder: Gardening guru Ira Wallace, a member of the worker-run cooperative in rural Mineral, Virginia, that has been operating SESE since 1999, literally wrote the book on the subject, 2013’s Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast, and more recently, guides specific to five Southern states. Want a free 2023 catalog? Request one, or see online listings, at southernexposure.com.
Asheville, North Carolina
Seed catalogs tend to get roughed up, but Sow True’s 2023 cover, a painting of a man tending a near-rampant garden by New Orleans artist Sean Gerard Clark, deserves keeping clean. Produced by an all-female, employee-owned cooperative, the catalog offers more than five hundred vegetable, flower, and herb seeds, all open-pollinated and GMO-free. This year’s edition reintroduces a popular planting guide that includes the basic knowledge needed to grow almost all of them. “We’ve also added information on seed starting, companion planting, plant life cycles, and seed saving,” says Sow True community coordinator Hannah Gibbons. “We hope this catalog will be a resource for new and experienced gardeners alike.” Request your free copy at sowtrueseed.com.
Anderson, South Carolina
Heavenly Seed doesn’t distribute a physical catalog, but a virtual flip through its online listings yields real rewards, including bean and cucumber varieties not often found elsewhere. (Who doesn’t want to grow the Turkey Gizzard Pole Bean?) The green thumb behind the heirlooms is Mike Watkins, whose four decades of experience in the seed game includes serving as executive vice president of Clemson University’s Foundation Seed Program. He and his wife, Pattie, started Heavenly Seeds upon his retirement in 2009, with a focus on offering seeds from Clemson’s Bradshaw Heirloom Collection to the general public. Browse them at heavenlyseed.net.
Another online purveyor, this family-run company helpfully puts a “New for 2023” tab at the top of its home page. Start there and you’ll likely be tempted by varieties such as Diamond Eggplant, Orange Hat Tomato, and the alluringly named Who Gets Kissed Sweet Corn. Space-challenged gardeners should take special note of Victory’s wide selection of dwarf tomato varieties, many compact enough for growing in a pot. Though it always promotes the preservation of rare, open-pollinated, heirloom seeds, this is also the first year that Victory is offering its customers some (non-GMO) hybrids known for productivity and disease resistance. Explore the collection at victoryseeds.com.