Seed Packet Illustrations

Vintage illustrations include those drawn for children’s books, works of art chosen carefully for the covers of magazines, and copies of flora and fauna hand-drawn from observation for encyclopedias and other reference books.

Some of the loveliest vintage art, for me, can be found on calendars, seed packets, and other, more utilitarian papers. As an amateur gardener, the month of May inspires me to visit gardening centers, plan out my beds, and dig my hands into the earth! This post is dedicated to seed packets and catalogs from long ago. Oh, how I would love to have some of these flowers for my own garden.

Adorning the following packet, graceful asters in heritage pinks and violets (and one fiery red bloom) curl towards the sun as the wind softly blows their petals.


Via Wikimedia Commons By Maule, Wm. Henry (Firm) [CC BY 2.0 (

According to the Maule family website, William Henry Maule helped his father’s seed company become “renowned worldwide” ( Maule created colorful catalogs and marketed them towards individuals, showing the importance of beautiful art in advertising.

Next, I have chosen a packet with blooms so deep, they can only be heirlooms (from 1894). These giant petunias, in deep reds, purples, and creamy whites, show off their ruffles. Note the lovely striped and multi-color effects of these beauties:


Via Flickr from Manual of Everything for the Garden (1894)

The photo above reads:

“Peter Henderson and Co., New York. 1894. Petunias: Giants of California. Seeds of any of the above varieties 25c per packet. The collection her show each packet separately for $1.50.”

In his Manual for Everything in the Garden, Henderson cleverly disguised an annual seed catalog as a reference for gardeners, but it was a true guide, as well, with detailed descriptions and instructions for planting. I would have looked forward to this every year.

I have chosen the next graphic because it is a French seed packet, and I love its style:


via The Old Design Shop (please go to her site for permission to share)

Dahlias, with their understated elegance, are my new love this year in my garden. They offer the delicacy and richness of roses, but without the thorns. The cream and deep wine roses in the following illustration are quite tempting for me, though:


via The Graphics Fairy

I can imagine the white and red roses grown together (at 75c each). The Dingee and Conard Co. were a “primary grower of roses in America” in the early 1900’s and were also the first company to introduce miniature roses.

We just bought our home two years ago, moved in after the first growing season was over, and are still trying to uncover the garden, overgrown from years of neglect. Originally, someone planned the landscaping around our home meticulously, with shrubs (dozens of forsythias), flowering trees, perennials, stone paths, and an underground sprinkler system. As a result, we have named our house Forsythia Cottage.

So far, I have only added some lavender and bee balm until I see what blooms naturally. I  prefer carefree, airy plants and long for a cutting garden with a mix of French and English styles.

I leave you with a flower that grows quite well here in the Ozarks, even in our hard, rocky soil. I refer to these as spring Phlox or Dianthus, but in literature they are often known by the quaint name Sweet William:


In literature, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a memory about Sweet William(s) in an article for the Missouri Ruralist in 1917:

“A window had been broken in the schoolhouse…and the pieces of glass lay scattered where they had fallen. Several little girls going to school for their first term had picked handfuls of Sweet Williams and were gathered near the windows. Someone discovered that the blossoms could be pulled from the stem and, by wetting their faces, could be stuck to the pieces of glass in whatever fashion they were arranged. They dried on the glass and would stay that way for hours and, looked at thru the glass, were very pretty. I was one of those little girls and tho I have forgotten what it was that I tried to learn out of a book that summer, I never have forgotten the beautiful wreaths and stars and other figures we made on the glass with the Sweet Williams.”

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