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Historic seed company reopens

  • Subject: [cg] Historic seed company reopens
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Sun, 26 Feb 2006 17:52:43 -0800 (PST)

Rapid City Journal
Rapid City, South Dakota, USA

Company planting seeds of relationship building

By Cathie Draine, Special to the Journal

About a month ago, the avalanche of gardening catalogs
began ... slowly. And that was a good thing because
one of the first to arrive was a new one to me, a
40-some page opus from D. Landreth Seed Company, The
Oldest Seed House in America, Purveyors of Fine Seed
Since 1784.

A quick glance through the large (9 inch by 12 inch),
beautifully designed pages suggested a pot of tea was
necessary to accompany the reading of this, cover to

In the same mail, my copy of The American Gardener,
the magazine of the American Horticultural Society,
arrived and it carried a lengthy article about  you
guessed it  Landreth Seeds.

A little history

The company was begun in 1784 by Englishman David
Landreth who ultimately settled in Philadelphia
determined to obtain and sell seeds that grow. Not
only was he committed to selling the highest quality
seed, he was also interested in locating and bring
into production new varieties. A measure of his
success is that Landreth introduced Bloomsdale
spinach (still a staple), freestone peaches in 1790,
the zinnia from Mexico in 1798, and the first truly
white potato in 1811.

The company established the first trial grounds for
testing the purity of seed stocks in 1800,
foreshadowing by a century the kind of quality control
and plant testing done by a number of organizations
now - the All America Selections, the Perennial Plant
Association and others.

For a time, Landreth seeds were known worldwide. A
fascinating bit of the companys history is that they
sold seeds to every American president from George
Washington to Theodore Roosevelt.

New life

The company was passed down through the Landreth
family for years and finally out of family hands in
1942. Landreth Seed Company languished, almost
dormant, with the integrity of the seed storage
threatened by its location in a company warehouse
populated mostly by mice. The company was down but not

Enter venture capitalist and passionate gardener
Barbara Melera, who was looking several years ago for
a company to buy. Here in the warehouse was a company
in need of direction and development. It had a long,
respected place in American gardening history, an
unbroken commitment to seed quality, a passion for
preservation and promotion of heirloom seeds. As
Melera read through old catalogs and almanacs, she
formed a growing sense of comradeship and shared
purpose with the gentlemen who really made the

According to Pamela Baxters article in The American
Gardener, Melera believes that the original owner,
David Landreth, would recognize that folks are looking
for plants that will grow in smaller areas. We have
those. Just look at the special selections in the
catalog for patio gardening. And many of those choices
are heirlooms, Melera said.

David Landreth II was responsible for the expansion of
the business. We feel his hand in our determination
to preserve for the future with the large selection
of heirloom seeds.

And grandson of David, Burnett Landreth, is understood
as a gardener with a social conscience, a man who
truly understood and valued the relationship of the
gardener to the soil, who would shake his head in
wonder that gardening is taught to children as a
science class. Thus in the catalog is a wonderful
selection of seeds for a childrens garden. Who
wouldnt want a Golden Midget watermelon, a 70-day
bright yellow, 3-pound wonder? And consider the fun
for children to grow plants that tell time  the Four
O Clocks (a favorite of George Washington) and the
Moonflower. Or think what a great time it would be to
grow a Teddy Bear (sunflower), a Canary Bird, Oriole,
Polar Bear or even Will Rogers (zinnia).

Lets talk

Impressed with the passion for seeds, history and the
intensity of the gardening relationship that so
permeates the catalog, and really wanting to know
more, I chatted with owner, Barbara Melera on the

Youve owned the company for two and a half years
now. How is it going? I asked.

Growing dramatically, she said. Even though the
company was asleep for several years, we discovered we
had a strong base of little mom and pop stores and
home-owned hardware stores that consistently carried
our seeds. And to our delight, we found that we also
had a loyal base of mail-order customers. Our
challenge now is to succeed, not as competition to the
huge seed companies, but to develop a strong customer
base that shares the values of the company  high
quality seed, promoting heirlooms, and, in a sense
growing a social and business conscience.

We discussed what appears to be an increasing tendency
for acceptance of unfamiliar varieties of vegetables
not only in backyard plots but also in farmers
markets, community co-operative gardens and organic
markets. By growing, for example, tomatoes like the
yellow Arkansas Marvel, the wonderfully wrinkled Black
from Tula, the German Red Strawberry, the Great White,
and the red and yellow striped Roman Candle, we not
only keep those varieties in production, we also
improve our nutrition.

Moving on

No dust has accumulated on the shoes of Melera and her
staff. One of the biggest challenges was to get a
first quality catalog into the publics hands, and
they have done that well. The 2006 catalog is
beautifully organized and embellished with not only
comments from David Landreths original catalogs, but
also wonderful line drawing illustrations and generous
information about each selection being offered. The
Web site is beautiful, informative and easy to
navigate. It is www.landrethseeds.com. On the Web
site, read the archived newsletters, check out the
how to grow information and look at the selection of
gift sets. The gallery of plant photographs is
instructive and being expanded regularly. I bought
several sets of the notecards  easily some of the
loveliest I have ever owned.

Landreth Seeds is the fifth oldest corporation in
American. It is once again in the gentle and guiding
hands of people who, according to Melera, understand
that gardening is really relationship building  with
a person, soil, seeds, plants  and thats really
something we want to promote.

To request a catalog, call 1-800-654-2407 or use the
Web site: www.landrethseeds.com

Cathie Draine is a member of the Garden Writers
Association and a SDSU/Pennington County Extension
Service Master Gardener. She lives and gardens in
Black Hawk. Readers may send comments or questions to
her in care of The Rapid City Journal, Box 450, Rapid
City SD 57709.

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