May 18th 2016 – Growing Perennials from seed

Cathy from Rambling in the garden asked the other day about which perennials I grew from seed.

When I began the garden in spring 2007 I sowed a few seeds in an old wooden outhouse next to the house.  I wasn’t living full time at the house at that time so the seeds were left to their own devices sometimes for several days.  I grew Acanthus spinose, Cerastium tomentosum, Euphorbia myrsinites and Euphorbia characia subsp.wulfenii (I think).  All of these are still in the garden and now seed themselves around, mostly in useful places.  The only one which could become a problem is the Acanthus which is perhaps a little too generous with its spreading power.  This year I will cut the flower spikes before they set seed.

Euphorbia characia subsp.wulfenii, one of many that have self seeded around the garden

Euphorbia characia subsp.wulfenii, one of many that have self seeded around the garden

Cerastium tomentosum

Cerastium tomentosum

Cerastium tomentosum always visited by butterflies when in flower

Cerastium tomentosum always visited by butterflies when in flower

Cerastium tomentosum under the Melia in the Left and border, I must get some more seed as I'd like some other patches in the garden and this doesn't seed around

Cerastium tomentosum under the Melia in the Left and border, I must get some more seed as I’d like some other patches in the garden and this doesn’t seed around

The front edge of the Cerastium was the front of the border so you can see that I have widened the border considerably giving some more planting opportunities.

Melia Azedarach flowering now

Melia Azedarach flowering now

It has been a while since I grew any perennials from seed but this year I’ve sown the following: Alstroemeria aurantiaca (actually they haven’t germinated and I’m thinking of putting them in the fridge for a period of chilling), white Lychnis (a friend gave me seed from her garden when I visited her last year and these will be a nice reminder of her beautiful garden).

Meleanthus major

Meleanthus major and other perennials waiting to be planted out.  The tri-coloured sage is a new purchase waiting.

Eryngium alpinum, Melianthus major (I have grown this from seed before but the plants were for a friends garden and I’ve been meaning to grow it for myself for ages.  I have 4 nice strong plants that I will plant on the slope.)  White Valerian is another plant that should grow well here, even without irrigation and I can’t think why I don’t have it already!

Campanular persicifolia (I want these as cut flowers so these have just been planted out into the cut flower beds in the new Secret Garden), Phlox drummondii Creme Brulèe, Achilea ptarmica The Pearl Superior, (I grew this plant in my garden in England so it will be nice to have it here too; it is described as being suitable for cutting and for drying), Agastache rugosa albiflora ‘Liquorice White’ (this is also intended to be used as a filler flower for arrangements but should also add a good patch of interest in the border, it shouldn’t require very much irrigation.

Echinops ritro, I was given several plants of this a couple of years ago.  Last year they flowered in summer when not much else flowers so I saved seed and sowed into modules with a good success rate.  The seeds that I also scattered into the border have also germinated so I should have some large drifts of flowers next year.

Echinops ritro

Echinops ritro – July 2015

I would like to grow other thistle like plants as they should do well here, I’d be grateful for any recommendations.

All my seed sowing this year has been hampered by a purchase of compost from a different supplier that appears to have been infected with some kind of root eating fly.  I had good germination with most of the seeds including all the vegetables but as they grew on the leaves yellowed and many just died.  Coincidentally I read the following blog post (do read this if you’ve had any problems yourself).

I think it is very easy for us gardeners to blame themselves when seedlings don’t thrive and maybe sometimes it is our fault but I do think that often we underestimate the problems caused by incorrect or plain bad compost.  I remember that Cathy (mentioned above) had problems herself last year.

I grow from seed because here in Italy there it is difficult to buy perennials except from specialist nurseries and not all of those provide a mail order service.  The main disadvantage is that I don’t have access to named cultivars of many plants; I am always very envious when I read fellow bloggers descriptions of the special cultivars they treasure in their gardens.

Do you grow perennials from seed or are you able to buy plug plants or small pots at reasonable prices?

40 thoughts on “May 18th 2016 – Growing Perennials from seed

  1. A nice post Christina. We do have a lot of nice nurseries close by. Wouldn’t say I find reasonable prices but I usually buy plants instead of growing from seed, except for zinnias. I grew white Lychnis from seed though many years ago and it has reseeded ever since.

    • The Lichnis germinated incredibly well. My friend gave me a generous amount of seed and I only sowed a very small portion of it and I still ended up with 40 plants that I pricked out into modules plus at least as many more that I just gave to another friend.

  2. Troppo brava! seminare è davvero un compito difficile! Ho seminato l’arancio amaro e tutte le piantine appena spuntate vengono mangiate da “qualcosa” per ora ne sopravvive sono una che ha avuto la forza di rispuntare! 😦

    • No, non è difficile però anche io avevo difficoltà perché ho comprato compost in cui c’era qualcosa che ha fatto morire tante piantine. Non il compost che ho comprato da te.

  3. No I don’t attempt to grow perennials from seed since it’s only this year that I’ve had a greenhouse to keep them in. But I love lifting self-seeded perennials such as Saxifraga, Euphorbias, Valerians and Tellimas etc.They are great for adding to the allotment cut flower bed and for filling beds here.

    • For that reason I sometimes think it is actually cheaper to buy a small perennial from which you can either take cuttings or collect seed or better still FIND the seedlings; one plant produces far more seed than is ever in a packet and it will be fresh.

  4. Lovely post Christina. The white plant is one from my childhood home, and we call it “snow in summer. “It is really easy to take from cuttings. We just pull bits off, and it grows. I’m growing some white echinops this year, they really glow at night time. We buy a lot of perennials from NGS open garden plant sales. Raises money for cancer charities, and really good value,unusual plants. I’m looking forward to seeing how your seedlings grow. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Forgot to say, we are all sympathising with your problems re compost. For the past couple of years we have had very variable material. One of the gardeners suffered a badly cut hand when he reached into a bag where there were glass fragments. Poor compost causes a whole season to be lost. This year I am using Dalefoot sheep wool compost and also Sylvamix from Melcourt. Can highly recommend them both.

    • Yes, you’re right it is annoying and some seed is expensive so costly on time, effort and financially! If everything had grown I would have had far too many plants but at least I could have shared them with friends.

  6. I love white Lychnis but cannot get it established in my garden for some reason. The pink ones are everywhere though! White Valerian is a lovely choice. Most of mine is red, and attracts all sorts of pollinators. I must remember to look if the white is also attractive to them. I have similar difficulties finding special plants, but there are quite a few online shops now with better selections. Plug plants are practically unknown here, except for vegetables… I think that reflects the general attitude towards gardening in the south of Germany!

    • There is a similar attitude to gardening in Italy Cathy. I can choose from over 25 varieties of tomato plugs and almost any other vegetable you can think of, but no flowers are available at all. I hope the white Valerian will attract pollinators.

  7. Hello Crhistina as you see I changed wordpress. I bought seeds and plants sometimes bare root root ball and other other in a nursery potted online which is in France. Prices are good and has lots of variety with scientific name of the plant and common name. Website
    If you are looking for Google appears to the first. They also give advice, make reports and if you subscribe you send a digital magazine every month free. Well the plant that I liked is tormentosum cerastium: Wonderful with butterflies. Other plants were also beautiful but so white cerastium …. …. luck with seeds and small plants: all grow healthy and strong: it has a lot of them. Greetings from Margarita. margaritaexam141

  8. A most interesting and informative post Christina. I’ve grown a number of perennials from seed especially as we had to start the garden from scratch on a limited budget. I was and still am a member of the Cottage Garden Society and made great use of their seed scheme. Amongst the first seeds I sowed were aquilegia, astrantia, polemonium, some grasses and hardy geraniums. Some of their offspring are still flourishing years later. Since then I’ve grown a number of perennials from seed. This year I’m growing aquilegia ‘Miss M.I. Huish’, lysimachia ‘Beaujolais’ and lysimachia ‘Ephemerum’ (grown from seed previously but lost) as well as the achillea you mention. I already have the plant but am growing it from seed for a plant sale later this summer by which time I hope there will be flowers on the plants.There’s something most rewarding about growing perennials from seed and it certainly teaches you to be both patient and observant. Never give up on that seed tray 🙂

    • I’m guilty of giving up too quickly with trays of un-germinated seed; I sowed lysimachia ‘Beaujolais’ a couple of years ago and luckily didn’t throw the tray away as I noticed a couple of seedlings months later – last week I was able to plant them out into the garden and they are flowering so I hope I will learn from that. I had lysimachia ‘Ephemerum’ in my garden in England and loved it, since then I’ve been unable to find any seed as I would love to grow it again, where did you purchase yours?

      • Lysimachia ‘Beaujolais’ was sown about five weeks ago and is showing four seedlings here to date. The ‘Ephemerum’ is coasting along at the same speed and I need a magnifying glass to see a couple of the seedlings. I got the seed from Chilterns Christina but think that it’s also available from Special Plants and from Plant World seeds. I may have some left over that I could send to you. Will check the seed box later and report back.

        • I got my original seed from Chilterns many years ago but I haven’t found it listed recently. I have found it now via a company Annette (personal Eden) mentioned. But if you have some you don’t need I can give you an English address to send them and I’ll be happy to pay the postage.

  9. You’ve done an excellent job raising plants from seeds, Christina! Without a greenhouse or even a garden shed, I usually grow only what can be direct sown in the garden. In our climate, that list is fairly extensive but still limited primarily to annuals. (I generally use divisions or cuttings to propagate perennials.) Unfortunately, even the annual seedlings in my raised planters are often torn up by the raccoons so I’ve been relying more and more frequently on plugs. They’re not immune to raccoon ravages but they do fare better than seedlings on average. One day, I’ll get help on creating better protection for my seedlings in the raised planters but other projects have higher priority for now.

    • My understanding from reading other bloggers in the States is that there is a good source of plug plants available at a fair price. Here only vegetable plugs are available whereas in the UK flowering plants and annuals are also widely available and in my experience can be less expensive than seed if heating a greenhouse in taken into account. I am lucky not to have any major problems with wildlife in the garden apart from tunnelling by moles which if not noticed immediately can cause major plant (even tree) loss.

  10. This has been most interesting to read Christina – and makes me appreciate the constraints of availabilty. Of course when perennials are readily available having just one of the chosen plant is often preferable to several grown from seed, although I am beginning to see the attraction of the HPS that Anna describes. Greater success with annuals is giving me the confidence to try more perennials from seed. Which? Gardening is very helpful with their compost advice as they test every year – the biggest problem is consistency between batches, particularly with less peat and more recycled content. It is so easy to blame oneself for sowing failures so it is helpful for bloggers to share their experiences

    • Also as I said to Sue “For that reason I sometimes think it is actually cheaper to buy a small perennial from which you can either take cuttings or collect seed or better still FIND the seedlings; one plant produces far more seed than is ever in a packet and it will be fresh.” I don’t really need any more plants for the garden but I am keen to investigate perennials for the cut flower beds as a back up for years when I might not be able to grow so many annuals.

  11. I grow some from seeds and ordered from Derry Watkins this year. We don’t find unusual perennials around here and if so only at plant fairs. I welcome self seeding and have lots of fun with Euphorbia as they come up so differently. I stay away from Acanthus though…not brave enough, me that is!

    • I’ll look at Derry Watkins, thank you. Plant fairs are the only places here that have perennials at all, most nurseries don’t stock any at all! Acanthus can be a bit over enthusiastic but in the right place I do like it.

  12. I planted some white lychnis seeds from a friend last Autumn. So far i can only see one seedling, but it that grows then I know I can get lots more. I read the article you suggested on root aphid – scarey!! I haven’t grown much from seed at all as I don’t have my own greenhouse, but a neighbour allowed me to use hers this year and I have grown some annuals. If she offers again I might try some perennials.

  13. An excellent post, Christina. Because I don’t have a lot of money I have always grown a lot of perennials from seed for years and years (I also like species as much as cultivars – that helps!). I used seed from gardens that I worked in (most Ranunculaceae and Primulaceae, for example, have to be very fresh) and for other plants I would use HPS seed. In England I sowed 20 different perennials each year and had brilliant germination – I used to sell the leftovers in street markets. When I sow seed here, I am lucky if I get 3 or 4 youngsters per packet. I have always blamed myself and possible loss of green fingers (!) – also the fact that for the first time I haven’t got a greenhouse. In England I had a cold frame and if they didn’t germinate the year they were sown, my pots always went out into the cold frame (top-dressed with horticultural grit – another thing I can’t get in France!) They had one more year of ‘chance’ (except for peonies, which can take 2 years to germinate) and then I chucked them out. So – sowing perennials is something I’ve always done (far more than annuals, with which I didn’t tend to bother in the past). Your post has been great, because I’m now asking myself, is it really my fault that germination has been so poor? I had quite a rigorous sowing system in the past, and it worked in 85% of cases (good enough). I looked at your link – perhaps it’s not me, but my growing media! Thought-provoking stuff! Well done.

      • I used to work in customer advice for an English seed company, giving detailed telephone info on germination to people who had failed with their seeds. I always thought they just wanted another free packet! Now I feel guilty for doubting them! But the company (and probably others) did ALWAYS replace the flower seed if people complained. It’s something we should remember.

        • In my limited experience it isn’t always cheap seed companies that sometimes have seed that doesn’t germinate, I agree we should all complain more about these kinds of things. I also think that many of us (myself included) don’t always check the expiry date on seed packets; yes, some seeds seem to be capable of germinating after years and years but some have a very limited life.

  14. No I usually don’t grow perennials from seed and sometimes can find reasonably priced plugs or plants. Now I wait to see what is volunteering and move them about. I hope to begin growing some native perennials from seed maybe this winter or next spring…we shall see.

  15. Great post Christina, not least for reminding me to be patient with the Lysimachia Beaujolais seed I showed that it still sulking. I’ve grown a lot of perennials from seed in the past, from euphorbia myrsinites and knautia macedonica to various grasses and sedges. Aquulegias are always rewarding, lychnis is easy from seed and an excellent filler plant (I must show some more I dug too much uo this year) but I’ve not managed as many perennials these past three years. Oh, lamb’s ears! Really easy and so lovely! Compost is really difficult, I now only use Melcourts peat free, more expensive but much better results. Eryngium hobbit is a lovely deep blue and grows from seed, and if you can get hold of it eryngium yuccifolium would work beautifully in your garden. Do Chilterns Seeds deliver to Italy? They have a fabulous range of interesting perennial seed. I’m currently failing with two kinds of verbena hastata.

    • Yes, Chiltern sees deliver here or as seeds are light I sometimes have them sent to my MIL and collect them from her when we visit. I’ve tried Knautia macedonica several times without success; I was given some plants which grew well sadly the guy who helps in the garden pulled them all out by mistake so I will have to try again.

  16. It’s inspiring to see what you’ve been able to establish from seed, Christina! I’ve always felt a failure when it comes to growing plants from seed, but following bloggers (including you) who do it successfully (and blog about it!) has helped me get my courage up to try annuals at least. And with a higher success rate than ever before, so perhaps I’ll try perennials too in the near future.
    Plug plants and indeed many perennials in a range of sizes are wonderfully inexpensive here; but the selection is in many cases insanely erratic, so I do keep an eye on seed catalogs if I want a given plant!

    • Very often, if you can buy a perennial it is actually better value because you’ll be able to divide it or take cuttings. Perennials from seed, in my experience, often need more time to germinate and can be more erratic. I like growing from seed because I find it quite thrilling to see the seed germinate and grow into a large plant.

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