Underwood Gardens came into being in 1993 by way of several handwritten, mimeographed sheets that Mayo Underwood put together listing her personal seed inventory from dedicated seed collecting and seed saving from many years of travels, both in the United States and abroad. These initial offerings resulted from family and friends being interested in what her seed bank contained. The first printed catalog appeared in 1994 with 18 pages and grew to 65 pages by 2007.
Terroir Seeds purchased Underwood Gardens in the Fall of 2008 and relocated it from Woodstock, IL to Chino Valley, AZ. Since then we have held true to Mayo’s original goal of preserving genetic diversity by saving and distributing heirloom and open pollinated seeds. At the same time we’ve expanded the original Membership program by donating needed seeds and education to many great organizations that are using gardening to educate people how to grow their own food and become more self reliant.
Underwood Gardens promotes seed saving! This keeps the genetic diversity of the plants that sustain us alive and healthy.
Underwood Gardens was one of the first signers of the Safe Seed Pledge!
“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative,
We pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants.
The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities.”
Our focus is heirloom and open pollinated varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs; we do not sell hybrids.
As we celebrate the 5th anniversary of Terroir Seeds and the 20th anniversary of Underwood Gardens in 2013, here is an excerpt from a conversation with Mayo Underwood on this milestone-
I wanted to grow things from when I was a toddler, which was a bit of a problem as I lived in a NYC high rise. A trip to my aunt and uncle’s farm in Maine when I was 5 expanded my “green” world.
I was invited to stay that year – and then went back each summer until I was a teenager when boys and dances in NY captured my attention.
Wherever I lived after college, grad school and marriage, I continued the practices my uncle taught me – starting plants from seed, growing without chemicals (the original “organic”) harvesting the food, saving the seeds and composting the rest. I had a big stash of seeds and other growers with whom I exchanged seeds.
In 1993 I was in a motorcycle accident resulting in injuries similar to those of Christopher Reeve. The prognosis wasn’t great, yet 20 years later, here I am!
While I was recovering, my daughter suggested a project – a list of “all those darn seeds.” After the list, Maren suggested I describe the plants and tell the story behind the seeds. Next, came the growing instructions, seed-saving directions and the stories I’d tell someone if I were sharing the seeds with them. Each seed came to life on paper.
Maren designed a small booklet around all this information. The booklets went out to friends and family, the Garden Club of America and to the heads of garden clubs in Illinois, our home state. Within a few weeks I was getting letters asking where people could get these seeds.
That fledgling Underwood Gardens became a certified organic, heirloom seed company that grew and offered seeds for vegetables, herbs, flowers and “curiosities”, then added plants, bulbs and plant-based foods. Its customers spanned the globe!
In early 2007 Doug Green, one of Canada’s top gardening gurus, (don’t you love his name!) came into Underwood Garden’s life – and mine – through a business venture. Within a relatively short time, he convinced me that we should be together. I sold Underwood Gardens and moved to Doug’s amazing island in Canada .
The baton was passed to Cindy and Stephen, who have taken it and run with it with great vision and integrity. I wish them great success and happiness in their green world.
~ Mayo Underwood, Founder of Underwood Gardens