Perennials from Seed – a trial

New trends in planting design call for large numbers of perennials to replace traditional lawns and fill our garden landscapes. I want to encourage you to join in, but the biggest problem for most of us is simply affording all of the hundreds of plants these schemes potentially need.

One strategy I am investigating is growing some of my perennials from seed. Ten years ago I would never have even thought of doing this; my view was that it would take far too long before anything flowered and apart from the true species, the only seed strains of hardy perennials I had seen, or tried, were second rate when compared to the fine cultivars I knew.

A lot has changed and nowadays there are many fine perennials to grow from carefully selected seed strains. Many have been developed for the commercial production of cut flowers, but that does not stop many making excellent garden plants.

I sowed my seeds last week and already some are beginning to germinate. As the summer unfolds I will be sharing my findings with you, but for now, I will tell you what I am trialling.

First the true species which are perfect plants to consider using in perennial meadows:

  • Echinacea paradoxa var. paradoxa
  • Nepeta nervosa
  • Pycnanthemum muticum
  • Rudbeckia missouriensis

Although I have no links with the firm, all of my seed is from the German seedhouse Jelitto. They are leaders in the field of perennial seed and have been introducing their own special selections for many years. Of these, I am trialling the following and I hope Jelitto will not mind that I have copied their own descriptions from their fascinating web site. Please excuse the inevitable sales pitch, but I think you can see why I am interested to try these specific seed strains.

  • DESCHAMPSIA cespitosa ‘Pixie Fountain’

Deschampsia ‘Pixie Fountain’ is a new (2010), lower-growing Jelitto introduction, only one-half the height 60 cm (24″) of the ordinary tufted hair grass. It is also a marvelous long-lived, dense clump-forming, consistent seed strain with darker evergreen foliage and slightly wider upright leaves. The lovely cloud-like airy blooms appear in June on sturdy stems, opening a bright light green, and maturing to golden tan by early fall. The prolific flowering effect is noticeably enhanced by backlighting.

‘Pixie Fountain’ can be extraordinarily effective when it is planted in large groupings, or as an edging plant, in full sun in cooler summer climates. An open woodland setting would be preferred in warmer summer climates. The foliage of Deschampsia ‘Pixie Fountain’ self-cleans and is therefore one of the easiest of all ornamental grasses to maintain.

Mass plantings look outstanding and can be combined with Euphorbia palustris, Luzula sylvatica ‘Solar Flair’ and Primula japonica ‘Appleblossom’. Flowering stems – fresh or dried – make nice cut-flowers, too.

Deschampsia cespitosa is a species that grows in humus-rich, moist soils, even in bogs, over much of the cooler regions of north temperate portions of Europe, Asia and North America. Our seeds of this Deschampsia originated from the far North, and we estimate it to be hardy in Zones 2 – 7 – more so than the ordinary species.

  • RUDBECKIA grandiflora ‘Sundance’

Just when you thought you had seen the last, and the best, of the Black-Eyed Susans, along comes another excellent one. Rudbeckia grandiflora is a not so common, drought resistant species of Black-Eyed Susan that grows in a few scattered sites around the Southeastern, Midwestern and Central United States. It is an elegant species with oblong basal leaves and a narrow, upright habit, featuring prominent parasols of golden yellow with tall brown cones. ‘Sundance’ is Jelitto’s select seed strain.

A side-by-side comparison between a few Black-Eyed Susans might be useful since this species is so little known. ‘Goldsturm’ is round, medium-sized, solid and remains the clear champion of mass plantings. Rudbeckia laciniata is very tall and has extra large flowers with very good cut-leaf foliage. Rudbeckia grandiflora ‘Sundance’ is long and lean and represents the best qualities of both. ‘Sundance’ will work in any border and is a stylish, new selection that can be planted as an accent plant or in smaller groups together with Echinacea ‘Magnus’ and Andropogon ‘Prairie Blues’ .

‘Sundance’ is sturdier than the species with strong flowering stems to 120 cm (48″) that have fewer stem leaves, allowing the lovely, big blooms to stand majestically above the basal foliage below. Dozens of long, slender stems each yield a single flower and make this a worthy cut flower candidate, too. Cold hardy to Zone 4.

  • SCABIOSA lachnophylla ‘Blue Horizon’

William Robinson, in The English Flower Garden in 1933, called Scabiosa caucasica, “the finest perennial in my garden, it flowers from early summer to late autumn.” A writer who minced no words, it is a pity he didn’t have a chance to grow Scabiosa lachnophylla ‘Blue Horizon’. He enjoyed many of the Pincushion species but not this one. This species native to East Siberia, China and Japan is exceedingly rare in cultivation today and this form is selected for its balanced growing habit.

‘Blue Horizon’ has performed magnificently on the Jelitto trial field and proven to be more reliably perennial than many others. It is cold hardy to Zone 4-9. Slender, wiry stems push through finely dissected filigreed foliage and initially reveal buds resembling small pale green saucers before opening into frilly violet-blue pincushions. This first year flowering perennial grows up to 60 cm (24″) and is a butterfly and bee magnet from July until frost. The delicate but numerous flowers bring vibrancy to favorite floral arrangements.

Scabiosa lachnophylla, in the wild, grows in sunny and sandy conditions. Plant ‘Blue Horizon’ in well-drained soils in the cutting garden, mixed planters or in the border with Echinacea pallida ‘Hula Dancer’, Heliopsis ‘Summer Nights’ and Penstemon ‘Sunburst Ruby’.

  • VERBASCUM chaixii ‘Sixteen Candles’

Verbascums are well known for their impressive leafy rosettes. ‘Sixteen Candles’ has handsome, richly branched, candelabras from June – August, consisting of hundreds of bright yellow flowers, each one accentuated by violet-colored filaments in the blossom’s interior.

This easy-to-grow architectural plant (100 cm/40″) is well suited for the border and for cottage gardens in combination with ornamental grasses. In fact, re-bloom can be expected if the spent blossoms are removed and it does not self-seed like its biennial relatives.

My earlier post on growing perennials from seed has proven to be one of the most popular posts on the site to date – it can be found here.

The Jelitto web site can be found here.

Sorry, no photographs with this post; you will have to wait until later in the summer or maybe next year!

2 thoughts on “Perennials from Seed – a trial”

  1. I have been growing perennials from seed for several years now and generally they are best flowering in their second year once they have had a chance to bulk up. I tend to keep potting them up and getting them to a good size before planting out. However, there are many that will flower in the first year.

    I love growing plants from seed so I hope you find it rewarding

  2. Have you considered plants like the ox eye daisy, purple loostrife and similar that are traditional meadow weeds… I mean wildflowers? Some of them may work well with more exotic perennial flowers.

Comments are closed.