Posted on: April 29, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster |
When David and Cuthbert Landreth founded the D. Landreth Seed Company in 1784, they never could have imagined the ups and downs the company would see over the centuries. The company sold during World War II, changing hands over the years several times, and almost fading away until recently being purchased by American Meadows Inc.
Now company President Ethan Platt has made a commitment to bring back the prestigious seed company, offering a multitude of interesting varieties, like classics from the Landreth line as well as relatively newer cultivars.
Reflecting on the Landreth brothers’ legacy, Platt explains the rich history of the seed house.
“We’ve seen evidence that they sold seeds to every president from Washington up to (Franklin Roosevelt),” he said. “Their history mirrors the history of our country. They really were pioneers, truly in the sense of the word, in horticulture in our county.”
This year’s output is just the beginning, as more varieties will be added during the company’s resurrection.
“We’re chipping away,” he said over the phone. “What you see is a quarter or a third of where we want to be.”
American Meadows, which also owns High Country Gardens, is best known for flowers, so 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 explained.
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 through them and think about where this company has been and not feel a sense of stewardship,” he said.
Prolific garden author and speaker Ellen Ecker Ogden, who founded The Cook’s Garden seed company and is helping with the relaunch of Landreth’s Garden Seeds, also was 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 said.
‘Bloomsdale’ spinach was a Landreth introduction and it’s still one of the more 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,” Ogden says happily. Commercial varieties are bred with thick, strong tops to facilitate mechanical harvesting. Carrots like ‘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,” Ogden says. “You’re probably not going to be satisfied with the little baby carrots you buy in the story anymore.”
‘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, and 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 interesting stories like that one and of the ‘Jenny Lind’ melon, a super sweet variety named for an 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,” Ogden says, “handing it down and carrying it on.”
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 year.
“What we’re trying to do is to bring back the wanes of heirloom and old seed varieties,” Ogden said, “but then choose the ones that make sense for our modern gardener.”
Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.
Details: Landreth’s Garden Seeds.
Doug Oster is manager and editor of Everybody Gardens with a passion for gardening and a love of sharing is experiences with other gardeners. You will also find Doug’s gardening contributions in the Tribune-Review each week. He’s an Emmy Award winning producer, television host and writer. Oster is co-host of The Organic Gardeners Radio show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. Oster’s Outstanding Documentary Emmy was awarded for Gardens of Pennsylvania, a one hour special he conceived and produced for the PBS affiliate WQED. Doug appears every Thursday morning on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today live at 9 a.m. “Gardening is fun, he says, enjoy every day spent outside tending vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees.”