Interesting Perennials I'm Growing...From Seed! (Part 1)

Last year I grew a slew of perennials from seed - everything from Echinacea & Rudbeckia to Salvias, Nepeta & Penstemon.  While not everything was a resounding success, I had SO much fun nonetheless!  And the best part?  I ended up with dozens of beautiful perennial seedlings for a fraction of the cost.

A variety of 1st year blooming Salvias in last year's perennial holding bed,
where tiny seedlings grow over the summer before being transplanted into the garden

Seeing those babies germinate and grow, then transplanting them to the ornamental border was so incredibly satisfying.  I can't wait until it starts to warm up so that I can see them come to life and really bulk up this year.  I'm expecting a casualty or two over the winter but I do have my fingers crossed that most of them make it through.

Nepeta 'Pink Panther' only a few months after sowing

Of course, now that I caught the bug, I ended up ordering a few more interesting perennial seeds this year & thought I would share.  And while this may seem like a lot of seeds, this is actually me reigning it in as I tend to go a bit crazy when it comes to ordering seed.  I'm on a 'Seed Diet' (sort of!) this year, after all 😉

Most of the seeds mentioned were ordered from a new-to-me local company called 'Botanically Inclined' while a handful were from Baker Creek.

This originally started off as one post but as I kept writing, I decided to split it up into two parts - 'cause this is a blog post, not a book 😊.  The plants included in Part 1 are those I've grown from seed in the past successfully, although the one's I'm trying this year are different varieties and/or species.  In Part 2 I share all of the 'never grown that from seed before' plants that I'll be trying this year.

Achillea ptarmica 'Double Diamond Pearl'

I have a confession to make...I'm not a fan of yarrow.  I had a bunch of it in the garden when we first moved in and I eventually pulled it all out (although a ton self-seeded into the grass, so I don't think I'll ever be rid of it).  Here's the BUT - the species that doesn't tickle my fancy is A. millefolium which is the standard yarrow that you see everywhere with it's clusters of flat-topped flowers (umbels).

Then, a few years ago, I was in the William Dam trial gardens and was introduced to A. ptarmica with it's loose sprays of button-like flowers....and fell in love.  Of course, I purchased a packet (the variety was 'Marshmallow') & it's now a resident of my perennial garden.

Achillea ptarmica 'Marshmallow'

So, when I saw 'Double Diamond Pearl' at Baker Creek, I had to try it.

Photo Credit:  Baker Creek Seeds

While Baker Creek's photo shows flowers with an open centre, other online photos of this variety have it as more of a pompom form so we'll have to wait and see how it actually looks when it blooms.  This one gets to be 2-3' tall & is hardy in zones 3-10.

Coreopsis grandiflora 'Yellow Fully Double'

This one is a dwarf (12-14" tall) coreopsis with double petals.

Photo Credit:  Baker Creek Seeds

Unlike some double flowers, the center of the blooms is fully exposed so it's still easily accessible by pollinators.  It's hardy in zones 4-9.

Echinacea purpurea 'Alan's Pride'

I love Echinacea.  I love green flowers.  Enough said.

Photo Credit:  Baker Creek Seeds

Alan's Pride grows to 24" tall, has apple green petals & is hardy from zones 4-9.

Penstemon barbatus 'Pinacolada Red'

I first 'discovered' Penstemon when visiting Denver Colorado a few years ago.  On my return, I promptly added Penstemon 'Dark Towers' to my garden.  Throughout the season, I became more and more enamoured with it - this plant just kept on giving with burgundy evergreen leaves (even in my Zone 5 garden) and gorgeous flower spikes that transition into seedheads that are equally beautiful.   So when I decided to try growing a variety of different perennials from seed last year, Penstemon was high on that list.

The one thing about Penstemon is that there are many different species available from seed - a point that's important to keep in mind since success with one species does not ensure success with another as they may have different needs.  So far, I've had fairly good results with P. barbatus, P. digitalis & P. cobaea (I also tried P. strictus but that one wasn't as successful - I'm giving it another go this year).  Whether or not last year's seedlings make it through their first winter is yet to be seen - fingers crossed!

Photo Credit:  Botanically Inclined

'Pinacolada Red' has a well branched habit & is long blooming.  At only 8-12" tall, it's a great front-of-the-border choice.  As with most Penstemon, Pinacolada Red is heat and drought tolerant & prefers soil that leans towards the dry side, although I'm sure it will be fine with average moisture as well. It needs full sun and is hardy from zones 4-8.

Penstemon saxosorum (Upland Beardtongue)

This is an unusual Penstemon that doesn't seem to be widely available as I had issues finding much information on it.  I'm not sure why that is - perhaps it's just fussier to grow in areas outside it's native Colorado & Wyoming?  I guess we'll find out!

Photo Credit:  Botanically Inclined

P. saxosorum tops out at 32" tall & blooms from June to August with blue to blueish-violet flowers.  It's hardy down to zone 5 but I couldn't find any information on it's upper zone range.

Penstemon digitalis (aka Foxglove Beardtongue)

I'm growing a couple of P. digitalis including this one which is the species.  The flowers resemble those of foxglove, hence it's species & common name.  P. digitalis has one of the widest native ranges of the Penstemons, being native to most of the Eastern US & Canada.

Photo Credit:  Botanically Inclined

P. digitalis blooms in late spring/early summer, gets 3-5' tall and is hardy in zones 3-8.

Asclepias exaltata (aka Poke Milkweed)

I adore milkweed and each year I add more to the garden.  While I do tend to pull common milkweed (A. syriaca) when it finds its way into the garden (although I do leave a few scattered plants here & there, making sure to deadhead spent blooms), A. incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) & A. tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) is another story - I can't seem to get enough!

A few years ago - I believe it was at the Royal Botanical Gardens, here in Ontario - I was introduced to another native milkweed - A. exaltata aka Poke Milkweed.  With it's nodding head of white to pale pink flowers I was immediately smitten 💚💚

Photo Credit:  Botanically Inclined

Now for the exciting bit - according to a few sites, this one thrives in part-shade to shade conditions.  Say what?  A milkweed I can plant in my shady borders?  Yes please!  I am, however, taking this with a grain of salt as other sites do indicate it's best in part to dappled perhaps I'll try it out in a few areas of the garden to see how it goes.  Another great garden experiment that I'm excited about!

The height on A. exaltata ranges pretty wildly from 2' tall all the way up to 6' - no doubt this has to do with the conditions it's growing in. It's hardy from zones 4 - 7.

Viola labradorica

While most of the seeds on my list are ones that I spotted as I browsed online seed catalogues and though 'hmmmm....I think I'll try that', V. labradorica is one that I actually sought out.

This is not your average, run-of-the-mill viola.  This shade loving native is smaller than typical violas & the leaves have a dark purple hue early in the season.  They bloom in early spring, just as many other perennials are emerging from the ground.  As the years pass, I enjoy my shade gardens more and more so am really looking forward to adding these to my shady borders.

Photo Credit:  Botanically Inclined

I do have an important PSA about this Viola:  While you may find Violas labeled as V. labradorica at the garden centre, in the vast majority of cases (i.e. 99% of the time), it's mislabeled and what you are actually getting is V. riviniana.  I even saw one nursery website say that 'there has been some confusion in the trade' as to whether the plants they are selling are V. labradorica or V. riviniana but 'either way it is a useful and pretty plant' - ugh!  These species are not interchangeable.  Firstly V. labradorica is native to the Northern US and Canada and while it does self-seed, it does so lightly & doesn't take over.  On the other hand, V. riviniana, which is native to Asia, is an aggressive spreader with many gardeners expressing their frustration with its invasive tendencies.  So buyer beware!  And before you ask, the seed listing at Botanically Inclined specifically stated that this is the 'true V. labradorica, not the commonly mistaken V. riviniana'.


Liatris ligulistylis (aka Meadow or Rocky Mountain Blazing Star)

Liatris spicata has been a resident in my garden for a few years and it is such a joy, not only for me but also the pollinators.  It has gently self-seeded throughout the bed - not in an obnoxious way, but here and there.  The seedlings are quite small the 1st year so it's simple to pull out any that end up where you don't want them.  And while I haven't purposefully grown Liatris from seed, it's propensity to self-sow has me including it here.

Liatris spicata in my garden

Unlike the fairly even structure of the bloom spikes on L. spicata, the blooms on L. ligulistylis look like little pom poms all the way up the stem.  And while L. spicata generally tops out at about 3' tall, L. ligulistylis, reaches a height of 4-6' tall!  It prefers sun to part shade & blooms in late summer.  And here's the kicker - the blooms last for up to 6 weeks - wow!

Photo Credit:  Botanically Inclined

Liatris ligulistylis is native to the Upper Midwest and Western Canada & is hardy from zones 3-8.

Monarda fistulosa (aka Wild Bergamot)

This is the one seed that I'm not exactly sure if I want to add to the garden or not.  There seems to be a bit of disparity in terms of people's experiences with this North American native perennial.  Some people warn of its aggressive tendencies while others say it's well behaved.  No doubt these differing experiences have a lot to do with the environment it's planted in.

Photo Credit:  Botanically Inclined

Perhaps those that are 'well behaved' are in drier, leaner soils while those that are more vigorous reside in rich, moist soils.  This has me thinking back to my experience with Lily of the Valley.  It was a well-behaved plant that stayed more or less in its spot....until I started mulching the bed.  All of that retained moisture and added nutrients from the mulch pretty much made it a monster which I eventually had to remove.

I've had my fill of plants that take over so I've been umming and ahhing about whether or not to try it in my garden.  The thing is, I LOVE monarda and so do the pollinators, which is what prompted me to 'Add to Cart'.   I'm leaning towards trying it in a 'wilder' area of the garden that I don't irrigate or pretty much do anything to.  If you have any experience with M. fistulosa in your garden - one way or the other - do share it in the comments!


Most of the plants I've listed here require a period of moist stratification (exposure to moisture & cold temperatures in order to break dormancy) so I'll be winter sowing them in the next couple of days.  Ideally, I should have probably done this in early January to give them the longest possible exposure to cold - especially this year as we've had the warmest winter that I can remember.  Luckily, the seed packets have quite a lot of seed & I rarely sow the entire packet so I'll have leftovers to try again next year should there be issues.

Make sure to check out PART 2 where I dive into new-to-me plants that I'll be trying this year.

Have you tried growing any of these perennials from seed?  If so, do let me know your experience - good or bad - in the comments!

Happy Gardening!


  1. I have to admit that, while I grow a number of annuals from seed, I've never grown any perennials from seed. I also rely almost exclusively on seeds I can sow directly in my garden as opposed to those that require special support to germinate. I purchased a seed-starting kit some years ago but I don't have the space to grow much of anything inside the house and I don't have space for a bonafide greenhouse, although I've been thinking about purchasing or making some kind of cold frame...

    1. I do know what you mean about sowing outdoors vs indoor sowing. I did do a bunch of winter sowing last year and was finally successful enough at it to continue trying it out with a bunch of new perennials this year - definitely a lot less maintenance than sowing indoors. Oh, a cold frame - that's been on my wish list for a long time and would make for a great way to start seeds, especially if it has one of those automatic venting systems. Hmmmm - I think you have me thinking about pushing that up a few notches on the list.

  2. Good for you, Margaret! I need to follow your lead and grow more perennials from seed. :) BTW, I do have Asclepias exaltata growing in mostly shade/dappled shade, and it's doing quite well. I had to cage it from the rabbits, though, to get it going. Best wishes for the gardening season ahead!

    1. Most of my milkweed is growing in the fenced-in area but I'll be adding it to the front garden this year and didn't consider rabbits...I may just do a small test in that area with a few of them just to see how it goes. Thanks for the heads up!


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