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Gardening: Seed catalog becoming a classic

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

I got a book in the mail the other day that I think would make a great gift for some of the folks on your holiday list.

Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds


  Surprisingly, it’s The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Stay with me now because this is not your average seed catalog. It contains more than 300 pages of heirloom plants from around the globe, some you never knew existed. Articles from seed explorers, recipes, growing advice and full colored photos that will take your breath away make it a fascinating read.   The annual Whole Seed Catalogs are becoming collector’s items and coffee table mags for the pure food movement.  

New this year is a small selection of live, ready to plant tissue culture grown fruit plants, including strawberries, hardy raspberries and the Chicago Hardy Fig said to be hardy to Zone 5.     

One needn’t be a gardener to enjoy this seed catalog.  It’s a great read for foodies, vegetarians and vegans who want to expand their palate.   

My favorite article explains the important nutritional value of the purple produce that’s popping up in grocery stores and farm markets. The secret is anthocyanins, the blue, violet or red flavonoid pigment found in plants.

According to University of Illinois researchers, native Peruvian black corn tops the list of anthocyanin content,  but Red Orach, Black Beauty tomato, Scarlet Kale, (which can be grown as baby greens in spring and mature plants in fall), and the gorgeous deep burgundy Merlot lettuce are all good sources. They’re among the seeds I’ve selected from Whole Seed Catalog I plan to grow in pots on my porch next summer.  Of course red wine is also a good source.  

Anyone planning a vacation to Asia that includes trips to food stalls and outdoor markets will find this catalog filled with Asian heirloom plants an invaluable reference that will enrich their experience, as they will know what they are looking at and how the produce is used.

Due to the shorter growing season in Michigan not all the plants in the Baker Creek catalog will do well here. However to choose the best plants for our growing conditions, the BC website includes a good planting guide that covers the specifics on how to grow and recommends varieties for colder areas.       

Baker Creek no longer accepts orders by telephone so to buy this catalog, priced at $9.95 or order seeds and plants, go to their website: The catalog is also available at Barnes and Nobel and Tractor Supply. All orders within the continental U.S. are shipped free.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at