entertainingFood & Drinkoutdoorstudio choowe like it wild

we like it wild: the seed bank

by Grace Bonney

[i just wanted to wish jill from studio choo a big congratulations- she’s getting married this weekend! best wishes for a long and happy marriage, jill! also, ashley is taking a week off, so “small measures” will return next week]

You know Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is no ordinary garden shop the second you turn down Petaluma Boulevard. Housed in the towering old 1926 Sonoma County Bank, it’s hard to miss the Seed Bank. Selling over 1200 varieties of seeds, the Seed Bank is a stand out not only because of its impressive edifice, but it’s the company’s commitment to growing and promoting varieties of heirloom fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers that attract backyard gardeners and locavores from miles around. Even non-gardeners can’t resist poking their heads into the marble building to take a look at the rows and rows of colorful seed packets carefully cataloged and tucked into beautiful Amish-built seed racks the owners had custom built on-site.

Started in Mansfield, Missouri by 17 year-old Jere Gettle in 1998, it turns out that there’s very little that’s ordinary about Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. When Gettle started collecting the seeds of older, rarer varieties of plants and selling them through his mail order business he found that there were gardeners, growers, and small farmers all over the country interested in growing their own heirloom crops and antique flowers and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds quickly found a following. Many of the seeds we buy from big seed companies at the local hardware store or garden shop have been manufactured, modified, and hybridized over the decades and many older varieties of fruits and vegetables have been lost in the process. Gettle’s commitment to pure seeds (all seeds are non-GMO) and seed preservation have made Baker Creek the go-to seed store for thousands of gardeners. The success of his Missouri store led to the company opening it’s first branch way out west in Petaluma, where foodies, farming and slow food movements converge.

When we visited the Seed Bank there was a haul of locally grown potatoes in the middle of the marble floor, still covered in dirt with handmade signs describing the different varieties. The rows are organized by types of fruits, vegetables and flowers, and the seed packets (all either from Baker Creek or other small seed companies around the country) have colorful vintage graphics. Almost every seed gets a detailed description and origin story (many are from the 19th and early 20th century).

CLICK HERE for the rest of the seed bank post (and more beautiful pictures) after the jump!

We left the Seed Bank with a brand new stash of seeds and wanted to make sure that we took good care of our new investment so we decided to create our own little seed bank to keep them until we’re ready to start planting. Seeds are actually alive and lifespans range from six months to ten years. Storing seeds in cool, dry, dark conditions is considered best. We used some corked bottles, labels, and an old recipe box to make our own bank. Since seeds need to be kept dry above all else, store your seeds in an airtight container, such as zip lock bags, jars or glassine envelope. We used corked vials to store our seeds and typed up labels letting us know which was which, and included the date so we remember how old our seeds are. Many gardeners encourage adding a desiccant to your seeds to keep the conditions extra dry. We made sure to save the seed envelopes, too, storing them alphabetically in our handy recipe box for future reference. Seeds like it a bit cooler than room temperature so find a cool place in your house to store your bank. Our recipe box can easily be stored in the back of the fridge until planting season is here or, more likely, until we actually have time to plant them. Here’s a quick guide to vegetable seed lifespans you can print up and store in your own seed bank, and more information in general about seed storage from the folks at The Heirloom Gardener. If all goes well and our green thumbs start to itch, you may be seeing a post about Parisian Picklings in the near future.

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  • i just got my order of 20 seed packets from them, and i’m not sure if i’m more excited about the packaging or the seeds!

  • I am a Petaluma native living very far away on the East Coast. Imagine my surprise at seeing my tiny hometown featured on your blog! Thank you for the reminder of the beauty that abounds in Petaluma.

  • I love Petaluma! My fiance is a native. The seed bank is only one of the many wonderful places to visit in Petaluma. I have yet to go into the seed bank, but now I will!!

  • I love Petaluma. My fiance is a native! Twenty minute drive from my home!!! Petaluma is so full of treasures, I go shopping there all the time. I will have to add the seed bank to one of my places to visit!

  • Love this! I am sorry to see that the original store wasn’t highlighted, it is an amazing place! Also, their Spring Festival happens in the Midwest in early May and is TRULY a fabulous experience!

  • We were already planning to visit here on our CA road trip honeymoon (one of the stops I am MOST excited about)! Thanks for the background info and tips on seed storage!

  • I put in a big order from Baker Creek this year, and now have a basement full of seedlings that make me smile every day!

  • what a trip! – I remember that building from when I lived in Novato – at the time it was stuffed full of rugs. This looks much cooler – and the art gallery that’s in the other old bank on Petaluma blvd is very cool too.

  • My husband and I lived in a loft in downtown Petaluma where we could see the Seed Bank from our windows! AN AMAZING place some of the best food! If there, visit Graffit’s and try the basalmic and truffle oil, it is HEAvENLY!!!!

  • This place is amazing! I was born and raised in Petaluma and have been wondering if DesignSponge might do a design guide of Sonoma County sometime (saw the Napa one last week). It is a beautiful place definitely worth a visit! Great post.

  • WHOA, my Dad was literally just telling me about this company last night, when I was asking him for gardening advice! He lives in MO and apparently buys all his seeds from them! I live in CA and he told me that they opened up shop in Petaluma. Weird! I had no idea what heirloom seeds were. This place looks like fun. I can’t wait to visit!

  • This is a milestone for Petaluma downtown. This sets a wonderful new tone for retail opportunities in a very special town. Bravo!

  • No kidding – I drove by that place two weeks ago and remarked to my wife “I bet I’ll be seeing that place on blogs, websites and in magazines soon.”

  • I’m East Coast right now, but this place might merit a trip to CA … of course, I’d have to plan a vacation around it, to dupe my family (they love my garden and the harvest we reap, but not the piles of seed catalogues that clutter our home … or the tools that are filling the shed and spilling into the yard … hmm, maybe I shouldn’t go).

    I love the idea of this place, may it inspire many more!!

  • I was just there in late March!! I actually thought “OH MY GOSH THEY STOLE MY PICTURE” but no, I just took one that was almost identical.

    It was such a beautiful store and Petaluma is so gorgeous altogether.

  • Heh, I’m another Petaluma native who jumped when I saw that first picture. The building used to house an antique store that was permanently “going out of business” — it’ll be odd next time I go home not to see those neon window stickers on East Washington!

  • This looks amazing, love the packaging and the idea behind the seeds. I’m planting all sorts of things on my roof and in my kitchen, so this inspires me even more…

  • Thanks for the post! I grew up in Petaluma (I am now 40)and spent my childhood riding the downtown streets on my bike. TG&Y, Woolworths’s, Rexall Drug, the bakery, Farrells…. every building in downtown Petaluma “used to be” something great, it is so wonderful to see the buildings reincarnated and useful.

  • My grandmother lives in Petaluma and I have many fond memories of that town! This makes me want to go and spend some time shopping around :)

  • What a fantastic post…..I had no idea a place like this existed. What a charming place, located in such a charming building. A match made in heaven….thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful find!

  • This absolutely is a good thing. I want to be there feeling at peace with the world. What a fine old building! The owners of the seed bank obviously know what is beautiful and good

  • PLEASE tell me they sell online also? Those pretty bags are the one thing that can cheer up our rather bleak late winter allotment garden aka mud-central…

  • I’m yet another native of Petaluma (who now goes to school in Chicago and is moving to NYC this summer) and was thrilled to see this post. Thanks for sharing! I’m hopeful that the Seed Bank stays in business for a long time; I’ve seen a lot of beautiful downtown, historic buildings change hands in Petaluma.

  • Who knew you had so many Petaluma readers? I love my hometown and the Seed Bank is on my short list of places to visit for planting this year’s garden. And yes, it is a wonderful place to visit. :)

  • Like so many other readers, I’m very glad to see this lovely business covered here on Design*Sponge. My Petaluma-born grandmother, also a floral designer but originally a teller at the Seed Bank way back when it was actually a bank, got quite a kick out of the transformation. We’ve been so happy to see the beautiful building put to such appropriate, admirable, and creative use. Here’s to many, many years of fruitful business!

  • This is within driving distance for me. I’m so glad you highlighted it. I may even be able to get over there while there’s still time for planting this season. Yeah.

  • i’m another petaluman pleased to see our seed bank getting some press. they’ve been a great addition to our community. and i second the notion for a sonoma county design guide!

  • I’m so excited to see Petaluma featured on D*S! It is my home town {which I have recently moved away from to Indiana!} I’ve always loved this building and seen the many stores that it has previously housed. I am so pleased to see that it now is the home to such a neat company. It’s a great addition to downtown. I miss it and hope to be home soon.

  • This beautiful place excites my mind. I like the place, the flowers, especiall lavendar, and the life. I’ve never saw so beautiful place, I hope one day I have a chance to live in the earthly paradise.

  • Morning – I know this might be a shot in the dark since this is an old post. But I was wondering if you could tell me the font used on the vial labels? I love the look of the slightly faded handwritten look. Thanks so much in advance!