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The Best Seed Company in the World

It is time to say good-bye to the wonderful and versatile Jelitto Perennial Seeds—at least in one sense. I’ll be clocking out, for the last time, at the end of the year.

I am grateful to my friend Klaus Jelitto for giving me a job 22 years ago. There has never been a dull day.

A perennial business, with an astounding selection of over 3,721 different seed items, was, from the beginning, right up my alley. All I had to do was convince the rest of North America to buy into my passion for perennials. I approached my work as pleasure, though I’ll admit: I was a little more adrenalized than most about perennials and gardening.

I love growing seeds.

Klaus Jelitto started the company in 1957 on a shoestring. In the beginning, he visited nursery customers between Stuttgart, Germany, and Landskrona, Sweden, in a rusted VW Beetle. He kept a bedroll handy, in case he needed to sleep on the side of the road. The first few years were hand-to-mouth, but hard work and good fortune enabled Klaus and his wife Margot to keep the business afloat. After moving six times, as the business grew, the company settled in Schwarmstedt, Germany, in 1992.

Klaus Jelitto 2004

Jelitto Perennial Seeds today is a small company of 32 gifted, hard-working employees. There is a United Kingdom and a Japan office as well. This year is the 60th anniversary of Jelitto Perennial Seeds.

I opened up a Jelitto marketing office in Louisville, KY, in 1996. I was the sole American employee until the business expanded in 2002 and the company hired Mary Vaananen. As a moniker, North American Manager doesn’t scratch the surface of Mary’s talents or her devotion to Jelitto’s customers. Mary has a vast storehouse of seed information, plus she is a superb, artful gardener, an inspirational speaker, and a great friend.

Georg Uebelhart collecting seed in Yunnan, China 1997.

Georg Uebelhart now runs the Jelitto show. I first met the precocious plantsman in 1987 when he worked as an international intern for Kurt Bluemel. Georg lives and breathes hardy perennials. Klaus Jelitto hired him after he completed a year with Bluemel.

Georg later confessed to Klaus that, in a move atypical of adolescents the world over, he had put out his own small seed list during his teenage years in Basel, Switzerland. Georg’s selection included wild collected seeds of Swiss herbaceous and alpine plants. He promised his customers that he would beat Jelitto’s prices.

Georg Uebelhart and Mary Vaananen in the Sarah P. Duke Garden in Durham, North Carolina 2016.

I’ll stay in touch with my Jelitto friends and colleagues. Klaus and I email regularly. Mary Vaananen and I will still hang out. My good friend Georg Uebelhart and I will continue travel to beautiful wild places to explore native plants—wherever they grow.

I lucked out in so many ways. I couldn’t ask for more.

But then Georg Uebelhart gave me keys to the candy store.

Retirement never looked better.

I can order anything I want from Jelitto—no cost!

Call me biased. I love Jelitto Perennial Seeds!

Jelitto staff in Schwarmstedt, Germany 2017.

Here’s a short list of my favorite 22 Jelitto pick hits (1996-2017). They’ve all been grown in Kentucky’s Zone 6.

Alcea rugosa—My favorite hollyhock.

Alchemilla sericata ‘Gold Strike’—Littler than the common lady’s mantle and tolerant of Kentucky’s heat and humidity.

Aquilegia canadensis ‘Little Lanterns’—A dainty and durable version of the Canada columbine.

Baptisia australis var. minor—You’ll need to wait three or four years for this to come into its own, but then you’ll have an easy and long-lived plant for years. Don’t sweat it. You’ll never regret this smaller baptisia.

Bigelowii nutallii—A charming and enchanting new perennial for me.

Coreopsis pubescens ‘Sunshine Superman’—A low-growing flowering fool with a long season of bloom.

Dianthus arenarius ‘Little Maiden’— You can’t miss the fragrance. Great for rock gardens and troughs.

Digitalis ferruginea ‘Gigantea Gelber Herold’—A tough foxglove with yellow blooms.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus Superior’—Shouldn’t all coneflowers be grown from seed?

Eriogonum allenii ‘Little Rascal’—Thick, silvery-gray rosettes and long-blooming yellow blooms. Drought resistant.

Eritrichum canum-hybr. ‘Baby Blues’—I’m tossing in a free-flowering, self-seeding annual. Blue flowers from May until frost.

Goniolimon collinum ‘Sea Spray’—White, statice-like blooms with beautiful silver-gray leaves. Excellent for rock gardens.

Heuchera villosa var. macrorrhiza (Autumn Bride)—The fresh, unadorned mother of so many of the newer hybrids. Still one of the best.

Iberis sempervirens ‘Snow Cushion’—Smaller candytuft.

Knipfofia hirsuta ‘Fire Dance’—Easy-to-grow and lower growing.

Penstemon x mexicale ‘Sunburst Colours’—You deserve this penstemon.

Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Rosen Glocke’ (Rose Bells)—Pasque flowers are terrific, early spring bloomers.

Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’—A later blooming black-eyed Susan with red tones.

Scutellaria resinosa ‘Smoky Hills’—A favorite, well-behaved skullcap.

Thalictrum polygamum—If I had to pick one tall plant…

Thermopsis chinensis—The early spring blue-gray buds open to brilliant yellow.

Tricyrits hirta—No one should be without toad lilies in partial shade.

Posted by on December 13, 2017 at 7:54 am, in the category What's Happening.
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26 responses to “The Best Seed Company in the World”

  1. Carol says:

    Congratulations on your retirement. What a wonderful gift they give you — free seeds! And thanks for the shopping list of your favorites. Ought to keep a gardener busy for a little while…

  2. Pat Hayward says:

    All the best, Allan. You have shared grace, kindness and developed deep friendships during your tenure. Looking forward to more of your stories on facebook in the years to come!

  3. Kata Kress Wallace says:

    Congratulations Allen! I will miss you at the tradeshows, but I am sure we will see you around! Make sure you still come and visit North Carolina! You are one of the most amazing Plant people I have ever met – a great role model too! hugs Kata

    • Allen Bush Allen Bush says:

      Thanks, Kata! I’m glad we all lucked out and got you over here. I talked to Georg today about the Raleigh PPA. We don’t want to miss the Angus Barn. Hugs to you, too.

  4. Congratulations on your retirement! Can’t wait to see what new and different things you will do to your Salvisa gardens. I am eternally thankful that you introduced me to Jelitto seeds, and for the your and Mary’s advice over the years. There is an extraordinary variety of wonderful plants that even a germinating klutz like me can raise from seed. I’m working on my wish list right now. February would not be February without trays of perennials under my lights in the basement, and growing medium spread everywhere but on Greg’s drum set.

  5. janet draper says:

    Congratulations on your much deserved retirement Allen! Georg was a brilliant guy to choose you to open a Jelitto Shop in the US. You and Mary have exposed thousands of US gardeners to the joy of growing plants from seeds.

    I will miss not seeing you at the trade shows, but wish you only blissful days relaxing in Salvisa with Rose. Hope our paths cross soon.
    much love – janet draper

    • Allen Bush Allen Bush says:

      Thanks, Janet! I am forever grateful to Klaus and Georg. Our paths will cross at the Ripley, Raleigh and I hope you’ll get down to visit us in Salvisa. Much love to you.

  6. You know, of course, that whatever the technicalities, your name will always resonate “Jelitto”, just as it always resonates “Holbrook Farms”, “Perennial Plant Association guru”, and class act!

  7. Allen Bush Allen Bush says:

    Thanks, PK! You’re the best.

    • D. O'Donnell says:

      Yes, he is. We in Denver are so blessed to have him, all these years, at DBG.
      Allen,
      I enjoy your posts here immensely and hope you will contribute more frequently to Garden Rant now. You make KY sound
      like Heaven!

      Cheers ftom Denver,
      Diane O’D.

  8. Congratulations on your retirement, with a lifetime supply of seeds. I loved reading your Holbrook Farms catalog and I was happy to learn you had moved on to Jelitto. As I remember, you were a fan of their seeds before you were their employee.

    • Allen Bush Allen Bush says:

      Thanks, Kathy. Good memory. I was a customer of Jelitto during the Holbrook days. And I had the very good fortune to travel to visit German nurseries and gardens with Klaus Jelitto in 1987. We became good friends. He came calling soon after I closed Holbrook. My good luck.

  9. Mimi Zinniel says:

    Cheers!! Great article, Allen… your passion and love for your “work” are inspiring! You’ve certainly inspired many people over the years, I being one of them. Thank you. And Congratulations on your retirement! Counting on seeing you and Rose often!

  10. MD Smith says:

    I hope to meet you and other seed fans at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery in England this July! This year’s topic is seeds.

  11. Joe Schmitt says:

    Congratulations Allen, and welcome to the ranks of the luckiest people on the planet, those who can afford to stop working. Luck is certainly the operative word in my case, having married someone with the earnings and health insurance that made retirement possible. I’m having a field day being out of the field. Love the photo of Georg in Yunnan.

    • Allen Bush says:

      Thanks, Joe. I love this photo of Georg on the Yunnan cliffside, too He’s a nimble Swiss mountain goat.

  12. Pat Dwyer says:

    Congratulations Allen!
    You have had an amazing career. You are respected around the world for your knowledge and for your kind demeanor. I’m glad that I got to visit with you in Salvisa. I’m worried that you will spend more time perfecting your ping pong and I won’t have a chance.

    • Allen Bush says:

      Thanks, Pat! My ping-pong needs a lot of work. Mac continues to whip me every week. I’ll be working more on my game. See you soon.

  13. Ralph Haas says:

    They got any tomato seeds?

  14. Jennifer Brennan says:

    Allen, congratulations on your retirement. It was an honor to work with you this past year. Thank you for your wisdom and guidance. I am another of your fans that hopes to see more articles like this in the GardenRant blog.
    Thank you for your list of favorite Jelllitto seeds!
    With my sincere respect,
    Jennifer