The workhorses of a great garden are perennials — those stalwarts like day lilies, peonies, irises and astilbe that come back year after year. You can save a lot of money by sowing perennials from seed rather than putting in young plants bought at a nursery. Most perennials take a couple of years to get established, especially when started from seed. But the plants on the following pages will bloom the first season: Sow the seed in early spring and enjoy the rewards this summer.
This beautiful perennial blooms from midsummer to early fall. 'Arizona Sun' (shown here) blooms a month earlier than most, its 3- to 4-inch flowers appearing hardly more than three months after a spring sowing. USDA 3-10.
Butterflies adore this plant. The fiery flowers of Maltese cross (Lychnis chalcedonica) appear in early summer. Sow in a sunny location in moist, well-drained soil. Deadhead to prolong bloom. USDA Zones 3-10. Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) also blooms the first year.
A native perennial wildflower, coreopsis thrives where soils are dry to average. This coreopsis typically blooms in late spring to early summer, but deadheading will prolong flowering. 'Baby Sun' and 'Sunray' are compact varieties that don't sprawl like the species does. 'Sunfire' and 'Sternthaler' bloom until frost. USDA Zones 3-8.
Another favorite for the perennial garden. Like many other varieties, 'Southern Charm' blooms the first year after seeding. In following years, expect bloom in the spring, a dormant period in summer where summers are hot, and a rebloom in the late summer and fall. A short-lived perennial, verbascum typically lives three years or maybe a bit more, and many types (but not 'Southern Charm') reseed. Tolerates poor, dry soil and prefers neutral to alkaline conditions.
The airy look of this 3- to 4-foot perennial (Gaura lindheimeri) comes from its long, wiry stems bearing white butterflylike flowers, sometimes with tinges of pink ('Siskiyou Pink' is bright pink). But the plant isn't as delicate as it looks. It's deeply rooted, grows in a variety of different soils (including alkaline) and is tolerant of drought. In many gardens, it seems to outdo nearby weeds without becoming a nuisance. After a few years, dividing can get you more wonderful gauras. Hardy to USDA Zone 5.
This wildflower, also known as Rudbeckia hirta, is a no-brainer for sowing from seed. Although the black-eyed Susan is a biennial or short-lived perennial, and it's treated as an annual in many areas, it self-seeds freely, so you can get an enduring patch going with little trouble. Sun-loving and drought-tolerant, black-eyed Susan is very low-maintenance. Sow in spring or fall; germination typically occurs in one to three weeks, depending on soil temperature and moisture. The first year, flowering is sparse, but the second year's blooms will be robust and abundant.
This beloved, hardworking, drought-tolerant perennial blooms from early to late summer, depending on variety.