Landreth Seeds brings back old varieties for the modern gardener
When David and Cuthbert Landreth founded the D. Landreth Seed Co. in 1784, they never could have imagined the ups and downs the company would see over the centuries — sold during World War II, changing hands over the years several times and even fading away until recently being purchased by American Meadows Inc.
President Ethan Platt has made a commitment to bring the prestigious seed company back, now offering a multitude of interesting varieties. Many are relatively newer cultivars, but also classics from the Landreth line.
Reflecting on the Landreth brothers’ legacy, Platt explains the rich history of the seed house. “We’ve seen evidence they sold seeds to every president from Washington up to FDR,” he says. “Their history mirrors the history of our country. They really were pioneers, truly in the sense of the word in horticulture, in our county.”
More to come
This is just the beginning as more varieties will be added during the Shelburne, Vt., company’s resurrection. “We’re chipping away,” he says in a phone interview, “what you see is a quarter or a third of where we want to be.” American Meadows also owns High Country Gardens and is best known for flowers, this was a way to get into selling quality vegetables and bring back the oldest seed company in the country.
After acquiring Landreth Seeds, the old catalogs came with the deal and Platt looked them over carefully. “Diving into them, reading the language and looking at the varieties, it was just a lot of fun,” he says. With that, though, came a rhetorical question that he hopes will take Landreth into the future: “How do we take these enduring values and this history and merge it with a more modern, ‘I can grow it,’ community feeling?” Studying those detailed descriptions of heirloom flowers and vegetables helped reveal the storied history of the company to him. “It’s hard not to hold those catalogs and look though them and think about where this company has been and not feel a sense of stewardship.”
Prolific garden author and speaker Ellen Ecker Ogden, who founded The Cook’s Garden seed company and is helping with the launch of Landreth’s Garden Seeds, was also profoundly affected by leafing through those old catalogs while wearing white gloves to protect the fragile pages. “I get so excited about some of these old varieties that we’ve lost that are now being re-introduced or saved and valued,” she says.
‘Bloomsdale’ spinach was a Landreth introduction and is still one of the most popular varieties for home gardeners, especially for early and late season planting and is renowned for great shelf life, too. “Bloomsdale was actually developed as a cold-weather spinach,” Ogden says. “It’s a thick-leaved one.”
‘Landreth Stringless’ bush bean is another standard; even when the beans get big, they are still tender and tasty.
“I always say carrots are going to be the next kale,” she says.
Commercial varieties are bred with thick, strong tops to facilitate mechanical harvesting. Carrots such as ‘Nantes Scarlet Half-Long’ and ‘Chantenay Long’ are sweet and tender when grown in the home garden patch. “They have slightly weaker tops, but the flavor is so incredible,” says Ogden. “You’re probably not going to be satisfied with the little baby carrots you buy in the store anymore.”
Quite a melon
‘Queen Anne’s Pocket Melon’ has an interestingly weird story, related to Ogden from melon expert and garden author Amy Goldman. Back in the day, the melons weren’t eaten at all — their sweet fragrance had another purpose. “They would use them as deodorant,” she says. “They would just keep them in their pocket and then rub them under their arms.”
One small reason to grow heirlooms is to tell their interesting stories like that one and of the ‘Jenny Lind’ melon, a super sweet variety named for the opera singer from the mid-1800s. But there’s another reason every gardener should embrace.
“It’s really about being able to save the seed, handing it down and carrying it on,” Ogden says.
Almost every variety in the new Landreth Seed catalog is open pollinated, meaning the seeds can be saved at the end of the season and replanted the next.
“What we’re trying to do is to bring back the wanes of heirloom and old seed varieties, but then choose the ones that make sense for our modern gardener,” Ogden says.