Patrick of the blog Bifurcated Carrots very kindly signed me up with a gift membership, much to my excitement, and the catalogue has been a source of immense interest already.
If you're familiar with the British Heritage Seed Library you'll be familiar with the concept of SSE - members can offer rare seeds to other members to try for a small fee or the cost of postage. The scheme only survives because of the dedication of members to preserving our seed heritage, and the fruits of their labour are visible in the catalogue, or yearbook as it's known.
It's about the size, layout and thickness of a phone book, and doesn't contain the glossy images most of us have come to expect from seed companies. I have to salute whoever put it together as the system for ordering seeds is a piece of bureaucratic wizardry: I love all the letter codes and cross referencing. But once you begin to dive in, it's a fascinating compendium of heritage seeds: the tomato listings are so big they are divided into colours, and run into dozens of pages listing everything from the smallest currant tomato to the biggest beefsteak. Each of the names tells a story: who, I wonder, first began to grow the tomato Kansas Depression, or the bean Syrian Soldier?
I also love the candid descriptions the growers give their hoarded varieties. Take this one for some cardoon seeds:
A very annoying vegetable related to the artichoke with edible leaf stalks instead of edible flowers, large and showy
Or this entry for a melon called Ananas d'Amerique a Chair Verte:
Small fruit, green flesh, not very sweet, very early, falls off when ripe, does not keep more than one day
Patrick is also excited about the arrival of his copy of the catalogue, but is worried about the falling numbers of members sharing seeds, despite a big surge in interest in heritage varieties both in the US and the UK. I don't think I'll be able to contribute any seeds for the foreseeable, but I am hoping to in future at some point, and I'll definitely be sending off for a couple of different varieties.