An Alameda Garden: Seed Heaven in Petaluma

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Seed Heaven in Petaluma

What’s a gardener to do in these damp, drippy days when you actually have a bit of free time to garden but the weather is not cooperating? It’s a time for planning next year’s garden, and that means seeds. And now, thanks to Baker Creek Seeds’ opening of their Petaluma Seed Bank, it means road trip!

It’s a 45-minute drive up Highway 101 to Petaluma, a town once known as the “Egg Capital of the World” that has never completely shaken its aggie beginnings. North of San Francisco and south of the wine country, Petaluma is what would have happened to Mayberry if it had been taken over by ex-hippies, foodies, and antique dealers. Needless to say, it was the perfect spot for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds to set up shop.

Filling an old corner bank building in the quaint downtown area, the Baker Creek Seed Bank is a new experience in seed shopping. Racks and racks of seed packets run the length of the old bank. When I was there earlier this week, manager Paul Wallace and his staff were busy replacing all of the 2009 packs with the new 2010 packs, assuring the freshest seeds possible. And of course, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill seeds, but rare varieties, many of which you won’t find anywhere else. The number of tomato varieties alone is a little overwhelming.

And therein may be the problem. The selection is far greater than any I’ve seen in a nursery or garden store and I wasn’t there too long before brain lock started to set in. I suggest getting a catalog to peruse before going, but you can also pick up a copy at the Seed Bank and relax at a table there while you flip through pages and make your shopping list.

In addition to the staggering selection of seeds, the Seed Bank carries gardening and urban farming books that you're not likely to find at your local bookstore. They know their clientele and don't bother with the Sunset magazine-style garden porn. These are books for people with dirt under their nails. But that's OK, because on the other side of the store you'll find shelves of home-made soaps, along with beeswax candles, honeys, and herb products. But particularly appealing was the line of Clarington Forge garden tools from England. You usually have to get tools of such high quality by mail-order, so it was nice to be able to handle them and check them out in person, and had I not been financially wiped out by Christmas I would have been happy to leave with a new shovel.

In the end, I left with only five packs of seeds, just enough to get my 2010 garden plans cooking. But I suspect I’ll be making the drive back to Petaluma come the Spring. Seed heaven beckons.

The Baker Creek Seed Bank is located at 199 Petaluma Blvd. North (take the Petaluma Blvd. South exit from Hwy. 101). Hours are currently 9:30 to 5:30 Monday-Friday and 11:00 to 5:30 Sunday, but call ahead to confirm before making the drive (707-509-5171).

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  1. I love Baker Creek Seeds. A visit to their seed bank will be a getaway for our family sometime soon.

    I also an encourage any parent, civic group or garden educator to order FREE seed catalogs from various seed companies. Promote Literacy. Support Education. Inspire Gardening. Children need books in their hands and seed catalogs are a wonderful, sometimes forgotten resource! Afterall, they're free. I blog daily about fun garden and fruit harvesting projects.

  2. Claire, I love meeting the folks at Baker Creek at the GWA Conference in Raleigh last September; would love to have them come to the SF Flower & Garden Show in 2010, don't you think they'd be a hit?? Thanks for the nice post about them!

  3. Laura, it would be great to have Baker Creek at the SFGS. The staff is very friendly and seem very determined to make this site a success.

  4. How I would love to have Baker Creek on my little island in Panama. I´ve had to have seeds sent down to me in the post and haven´t experienced that overwhelming sensation that too much of an assortment is good as ther is virtually nowhere on the island to buy seeds... So I´ll just read on with a little envy and wish you all the best


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