Marilyn Barlow, Select Seeds Catalog
“What is an antique flower?” asks Marilyn Barlow, the founder and owner of Select Seeds, in the introduction to her seed catalog which lists over five hundred varieties of antique and heirloom flowers. Her mission is to lure you into this colorful and fragrant world and convince you to grow a clutch of spicy nasturtiums, clove-scented sweet peas, or evening-scented stock.
She was lucky to grow up in a garden that had once been her grandfather’s, which meant that she already knew a thing or two about flowers long before she could reel off the Latin names. Through pure curiosity and doggedness to find hard to find, they build her business on her personal favorites., and is a valuable resource for heirloom flowers.
Did you grow up in a gardening family?
Marilyn Barlow: When I was a kid, our home had been in our family since 1855, a Victorian farmhouse that was built by a member of our family and passed down several generations. All were avid gardeners, and because my great-grandfather was a wonderful naturalist, he built pools and rock gardens for the flowers, yet most were gone by the time I came along. What survived, however, were the hardy perennials: Oriental poppies, iris, lilies, primroses, and hay-scented ferns were some of my favorites.
How did you happen to start your seed catalog business?
Marilyn Barlow: When we bought our property in Union, Connecticut, we purchased fifty acres with an old 1835 Cape house. To start our garden, we searched for the perennials from my youth but it was an era when the focus of most garden centers was on compact, dwarf bedding plants. Most of the old-fashioned flowers I sought were tall, with striking fragrance, and could not find sources of seed anywhere. I found sources for seed in Europe, however, where they still valued these old-fashioned beauties and imported seeds for my garden and to resell.
What were the criteria for the flowers in your first catalog?
Marilyn Barlow: I focused on any flowers grown prior to the 1950s that were open-pollinated, and preferably fragrant. In 1987, I mailed out a tiny leaflet that had a listing of flower seeds to customers who responded to a classified ad I place in garden magazines. I did not have any idea that old-fashioned flowers would be popular, and the catalog is now full color and has grown into a far larger business than I ever expected.
What are some of your favorite heirloom flowers?
Marilyn Barlow: My garden would not be complete without the heirloom peonies, although the ones around my house have no name, they have a fragrance that makes me weak at the knees! I also grow Heliotrope the tall, old-fashioned type, not the dwarf bedding plant. It was once hugely popular in the Victorian era, yet has largely fallen by the wayside. Another favorite is Tithonia called “the Torch” because it is stately, and the monarchs love it; it blooms late when they are coming through. Basket flower is a native annual with huge white and lavender blooms that are honey-scented along with Sweet mignonette an old-fashioned beauty that blooms from July to November, without ever cutting it back, and sweetly scented as is Sweet alyssum, with honey-scented blossoms that honey bees adore.
To Read More: The New Heirloom Garden book
To order the catalog: Select Seeds Catalog
Read More: Excerpt from Away to Garden