If you like starting perennials from seed, it looks like there are some winners in the seed catalogs to try this year. This is an inexpensive way to get perennial plants and have enough to fill out new borders.
The plant that’s really caught my eye in several seed catalogs is Knautia macedonia Melton Pastels. The crimson-red version of this flower, which likes a sunny spot in the garden, has been available from garden centers for a few years. Flowers that look like scabiosa blooms top wiry stems that get about 2 feet tall. It’s a summer bloomer here.
Park Seed says that Melton Pastels will get about 3 feet tall. The colors are yummy - purple, lilac, blue, rose and crimson - and it’s supposed to be easy to start from seed.
Both Parks and Burpee have some really pretty single hollyhocks, Country Garden and Country Romance, that are very easy to start from seed. The color mix of apricot, ivory, rose, pink and mahogany is a very nice one.
Hollyhocks won’t bloom until the second year from seed, so you won’t know what colors you’ve got until then. You may want to start them outdoors in a nursery bed and grow them on there till next year.
If you’ve got the space for more tall plants, Verbascum Southern Charm looks like a winner. The wild verbascum, or mullein, grows in hot, dry, sunny places in poor soil along roadsides. The cultivated variety should be just as undemanding, and Burpee says it will bloom the first year from seed if started indoors in February or March. Plants make a rosette of leaves at the base and shoot up flower stems that get about 3 feet tall. Colors in this mix are lavender, buff and rose, and it’s supposed to be a great flower for cutting. They also sell started plants.
Columbines are very easy to start from seed and both Burpee and Parks have new varieties. Burpee’s William Guiness is a very dark purple and white, a very striking mix. It’s a single flower and it looks like it has long spurs. It would look very well with Parks’ Irish Elegance, a very double ivory flower with a greenish blush on the tips. They look like camellias. Both will reach 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall and will grow in full sun or partial shade. These too will bloom the first year from seed if started soon indoors.
Thompson Morgan is reintroducing a fragrant columbine that dates back to 1839, Aquilegia fragrans. Single white flowers have outer petals that are tinged with blue and short spurs. T&M describes the fragrance as soft and says the foliage has a hint of apple when rubbed.
Parks has seed for a new variety of catmint or Nepeta, this one Nepeta nervosa Blue Carpet. The Nepeta mussini that I grow is very low-growing, with silvery foliage that has a pleasant smell when bruised and tiny lilac blue flowers that cover the plant in spring. If you cut it back after flowering, it will give you another flush of bloom in fall. Blue Carpet will bloom the first year from seed on 10-inch plants that spread out over the ground to form a mat. Nepeta likes full sun and a dry soil.
Too much moisture will rot out the plant.
I’ve always had luck starting perennial salvias from seed and I imagine Park’s Salvia x superba Rose Princess would be easy to get going. This rosy pink version of Blue Queen gets 20 inches tall and will bloom all summer long if you deadhead it. It’s best in full sun and can take a dry spot in the garden.
Penstemons are favorite perennial plants of mine. They bloom in late spring and early summer with little lipped bells up and down the stems. Parks is offering a new variety called Rondo that they say you can direct seed in the garden and still get to bloom this year. There aren’t many perennials that will do that. The plants will get 16 inches tall and the color mix is pink, red, lilac and purple. It’s supposed to be a good cutting flower. They grow well in full to part sun.
T&M is offering seed for a Penstemon that they can’t identify. Known in their catalog only as “Up-named species,” this lavender-blue flowered plant will get 18- to 24-inches tall and will flower in summer. If any of you can identify it, either from the photo in their catalog or by growing it from their seed, they want to hear from you.