Where to Find Rare Garden Seeds, Plants, and Tubers
Tired of tending to the same-old annuals and perennials that come to life in your garden each year? While even the most tried-and-true varieties are lovely, there's nothing wrong with wanting to try something new. Branch out by adding rare, heirloom seeds to your garden and turning out fruits, flowers, and vegetables that could be on the edge of extinction (the environment will thank you!). Here, where to source rare seeds, tubers, and plants, which will increase the biodiversity of your backyard.
Desperate to source the types of hard-to-find flowers they saw florists using—like "dusty roses, pale poppies, and scarlet sunflowers"—Willow King and Julie Carson founded online shop Plantgem in 2020. Offerings include chocolate lace flowers; orange, black and white Zulu Prince daisies; blue and pink Azureus sweet peas; and bright pink Jewel Cherry Rose nasturtium. Shop by growing zone, plot description, or color—or get personalized recommendations based on your Zodiac sign (Gemini: zinnias; Leo: dahlias).
When Erin and Chris Benzakein, owners of Floret Flowers, and their two children moved from Seattle to Washington's Skagit Valley in 2001, they wanted to "connect with nature every day." One of the first tasks Erin took on was planting a flower garden where she grew sweet peas that reminded her of summers at her great-grandparents' country house. Over the next few years, they turned the property into a two-acre farm providing countless blooms (dahlias, in particular) for retail sale, and a line of specialty seeds, tubers, bulbs, and gardening supplies. Online workshops and seasonal mini-courses let at-home growers learn from the experts.
The Iowa-based Seed Savers Exchange started in 1975, when Diane Ott Whealy's grandparents left her two heirloom seeds, descendants of those her great-grandparents brought from Bavaria nearly a century earlier. More than 10,000 members now share open-pollinated seeds passed down through their own families, improving biodiversity, while the shop offers common and rare vegetables, flowers, and herbs—many named after family members, like Grandpa Admire's lettuce and Mother Mary's pie melon.
Richter's Seed Zoo
The team at Richter's works with ethnobotanists to source rare and endangered seeds from all over the world: This year's stock included a century-old heirloom Duff sugar pea from New Zealand, wild machiqua from Mexico, 200-year-old Beretta di Lungavilla squash from Italy, and dewberries from central Kyrgyzstan.
Smart Seeds Emporium
Many of the rare and heirloom seeds from Smart Seeds Emporium are harvested from trees, vines, and plants grown on-site, then carefully packaged and shipped to gardeners in the United States and internationally. Choose from plants ideal for pollinator gardens; cacti and succulents; and less-common vegetables, like glass gem corn, Aztec black corn, Kajari melon, and Datil chile peppers.
In 1998, Mike Dunton of Dunton Family Farms started Victory Seeds, named in an homage to both victory gardens of World War II and his great-grandparents, Victor Dunton and Eda Vick Dunton. The company harvests and stocks hundreds of varieties of open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, including Noire d'Espagne carrots, dwarf Marong Moon tomatoes, and yellow lupine.