I've lived and gardened in Northfield for almost 19 years, and many seed purveyors had me on their mailing lists. Then, due to shall we say "fluctuations" in marital status, I moved three times in three years. I'm now, at least for the present, back at the house where I lived from 2001 to early 2006, but the poor seed merchants have yet to catch up with me. Since Christmas I think I've received only a Gurney's, a Gardens Alive! (which sells environmentally responsible gardening products), and most recently a Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog.
The Baker Creek catalog, which I requested after reading my blog friend Deb at Sand Creek Almanac describe it as "vegetable porn for a Minnesota gardener in midwinter," has to be in the running for the most beautiful seed catalog ever. The website is no comparison. Being in the communications business myself, I know this large glossy color catalog has got to be one expensive publication to produce and mail. The photography and presentation are simply gorgeous; occasionally a whole page is devoted to a single photograph that's so lovely you might want to carefully remove it from the catalog and frame it.
But beauty alone isn't my standard for an excellent seed catalog. What makes Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds particularly beautiful in my eyes is its mission of preserving and bringing back to popularity many time-tested, non-GMO, non-hybrid, untreated, unpatented varieties of fruits and vegetables in an age where much of the market pressure has been in the opposite direction. (It shares this mission with the Seed Savers Exchange, whose Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa, I have visited, and numerous catalogs also feature at least some heirloom varieties these days.) The Baker Creek folks also offer Heirloom Gardener magazine, now in its seventh year, which I'll have to look into.
My longtime favorite catalog is from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Heavy on untreated, organic and heirloom varieties, Johnny's is also a premier source of practical planting information, and since Johnny's is based in Maine it is a reliable source of advice for northern gardeners. Their mission is "to provide superior product, research, technical information, and service to critical home gardeners and specialty and small commercial growers," and they do an excellent job. They have a nice virtual catalog on their site, which allows you to browse their catalog pages as you would with a printed copy. I'll confess to still liking to have a printed version to pore over, so I've requested one to make sure I get back on their mailing list at my current location.
Renee's Garden Seeds, which offers "the finest seeds of heirloom and cottage garden flowers, aromatic herbs, and gourmet vegetables from around the world," has been another favorite of mine, and it's the only catalog I got around to ordering from last winter.
Chime in with your own favorites! Please! I'd love to hear which catalogs rate highly with fellow gardeners.