Six seed catalogs to help you dream of spring

As metro Detroiters get ready to head down into the deep freeze this week (with a high of 11 degrees predicted for Thursday), it may seem like the wrong time to think about spring. But as seasoned home gardeners know, the long nights of winter are an excellent time to think about gardening, about what worked last year, what might work in the coming year, and what to plant where.

And nothing helps you organize those thoughts like a short stack of seed catalogs to get your imagination going. (For many, browsing a website will suffice, but there's something hands-on about flipping through a catalog that still appeals to many gardeners.)

Happily, there's never been a better selection of seed catalogs available, given the emphasis many home gardeners place on heirloom varieties and organic practices. Better seed catalogs will identify which seeds are organically grown or handed down from generation to generation. Here are some of the catalogs we've enjoyed in recent years, offered nice and early, as catalogs often take between two and six weeks to arrive.

Have a favorite you don't see here? Let us know about it at [email protected] or simply post a comment below!

Baker Creek's Whole Seed Catalog - The website offers a preview of the catalog, but has some interesting short-form content of its own, including a peek at Mathieu Asselin's photographic investigation of Monsanto, a blurb on black corn, and some other surprises. Their stylish catalog comes at a price, at $7.95, but, at 352 pages, with anecdotes and histories and more, it's almost like a big magazine. (Click here to order.) Don't like the price tag? Order their free Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog instead. 

The Cook's Garden - While the Cook's Garden may have less of an emphasis on heirlooms and organics, they don't overlook them. Rather, the focus is on growing food from a culinary perspective, which means flavors are primary, and herbs are vital. You also get the sense they know home gardeners want to pack a lot of effect into small plots, evidenced by thoughtful touches, such as their "kaleidoscope mix" of carrots, featuring a spectrum of colors. Order your catalog here

High Mowing Organic Seeds - Like a lot of the more granola catalogs, not only do you get the assurance that the High Mowing folks are into healthy ecosystems and genetic diversity, but you also gain access to just plain cool stuff, such as attractive varieties, like purple potatoes, orange chard, burgundy beans, and indigo tomatoes. Request your catalog here.

J. L. Hudson, Seedsman - A "public-access seed bank" that has operated in California for 104 years, J.L. Hudson (no apparent relation) is a no-frills website that offers a broad variety of seeds, almost all heirloom. There's no eye candy in their catalog, but it's an interesting, old-fashioned booklet, peppered with quotes about freedom. The 2015 catalog should be ready soon; check the website in a week or two.

Johnny's Selected Seeds - This is what you'd traditionally expect in a seed catalog, with a few twists that keep it up to speed with the trend toward organic and heirloom gardening. The website is loaded with pictures and easy to search. Order your catalog here.

Seed Savers Exchange - Not a seed company, but a nonprofit dedicated to the sharing and saving of heirloom seeds, this is a good first-stop shop for not just seeds but supporting the cause of seed-saving. Order that free catalog right here.