Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > February 2015 > BONNIE'S GARDEN--Where My Seeds Come From

BONNIE'S GARDEN--Where My Seeds Come From

At The Great Big Greenhouse, I deal with three seed companies.  I deal with Burpee because of their long-time reputation and great selection; Southern Exposure Seed Exchange because they are  a Virginia-based company with a great selection of heirloom, organic, and open-pollinated seed varieties; and Botanical Interests because of their dedication to quality, great selection of regular and organic varieties, and their incredibly informational seed packets. 

Because I deal with all of these companies as a buyer, I know they all have great customer service and a great product, but I sometimes forget that behind all these seed companies were people who had a vision.

Burpee was founded in Philadelphia in 1876 by an 18 year old named W. Atlee Burpee with an interest in animal husbandry and gardening.  He dropped out of medical school to concentrate on breeding livestock.  He originally added seeds to his line-up to provide livestock growers with feed corn for the animals but soon added other vegetable seeds as well.

He had a particular interest in the old varieties of vegetables being grown in Europe.  Unfortunately a lot of them didn’t do well in the climate of the Northeast U.S.  He began to selectively breed to come up with varieties that were hardier here. 

When W. Atlee Burpee died in 1915, his son David took over the company.  In 1991, Burpee merged with the Ball Company and George Ball remains the owner today. 

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was started by Dr. Jeffrey H. McCormack and his wife, Patty.  They were interested in heirloom seed varieties.  In 1982, while Dr. McCormack was a professor at UVA, they sent out a small catalog of heirloom seeds.  The catalog only contained 65 varieties and only 1700 catalogs went out—but they wound up with close to 200 orders.  Many of the heirloom varieties that Southern Exposure offered, came from members of the Seed Savers Exchange.  Southern Exposure was the company that introduced many peoples favorite heirloom tomato, Cherokee Purple, in 1993.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange grew so popular and so labor intensive, that Dr. McCormack sold it to the Acorn Community Farm, in Louisa County, in 1999, who continues to operate it today.  Dr. McCormack still maintains a website called savingourseeds.org and is researching medicinal herbs.

Botanical Interests began when Curtis Jones met Judy Seaborn at a job interview in 1995.   Avid gardeners, they had a lot in common—so much so that they got married.  They set out to design a seed packet that reflected who home gardeners really are—artists, historians, chefs, scientists.  Their seed packets give extensive information on how to grow this variety, but also give a little bit of the history, even recipes.

Their first year in business saw 98 varieties of seeds all over their dining room table, and one employee.  Now they offer over 600 varieties and have 44 employees, but their vision of providing top quality seed and the most informational seed packet on the market still remains.

All of these companies were started by people who could see the promise in planting a seed. Sometimes I get bogged down in worrying about too much rain, or not enough, or what to do if I get wilt or blight or aphids this year, that I forget.  But I'm glad that these people who had the vision can still see the promise and continue to provide the seeds that I buy every year for my garden.
Posted: 2/9/2015 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
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