Monday, May 20, 2013

Growing Perennials From Seed

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to starting my seeds.  I do this every year, and I mostly grow vegetable seedlings because---like every other person who has ever read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle-- I am now an insufferable locavore and aspiring farmer.

This year was different however. For one thing, we haven't put in our deer fence yet, and I have nothing to protect my would-be vegetables from the posse of spoiled teenage deer that terrorize my backyard. For another thing, we are relatively impoverished, having recently gone from DINKs (double income, no kids,) to CHUMPs (Children-Having Undertakers of Mortgage Payments) and need to landscape our yard on almost no budget.

So, instead of starting vegetables this year, I bought some packets of flowering perennials, ornamental grasses, and a few annuals I couldn't live without, and decided to give it a shot.  I figured how hard can it be to grow ornamental grasses?  Really F-ing hard as it turns out. I doubt even Queen Galadriel herself could make these barren, lifeless seeds germinate. It's GRASS for goodness sake! If you took literally ANY piece of dirt, and killed all life on it, and did NOTHING to seed, water, and care for it, eventually grass would colonize it.  So why can't I make mine grow?  I think maybe they sold me a defective seed packet. Ok three seed packets. Of different varieties.  Oh hell.

So, as it turns out, there is a reason that Ornamental grasses cost $30.00 a bucket at your local garden store.  The good news is, I'm having moderate success with my other seed starting endeavors. Here's what I'm growing.

Black Eyed Susans: These beatiful flowering perenials are doing quite well.  I was very proud of this, until I learned that they are somewhat invasive, and that it probably does not indicate any sort of skill on my part to produce healthy seedlings.
Purple coneflower- These flowers will help me acheive the "cottage garden" look I am going for in front of the house. They too are doing quite well.
Blue Fescue- This is one of the smallest of the ornamental grasses, with a bluish tinge that looks great along borders, pathways, and rock walls.  Needless to say, it is not growing at all.
Deschampsia- This is my favorite of all the ornamental grasses that we failed to grow. It clumps nicely with a purplish haze at the top, and tolerates partial shade.
Pony Tails- This bright greenish/yellowish grass would have created a soft, feathery look for the window boxes I have planned. Instead, it mocks me from the attractive, beautifully clumping photo on the cover of the seed packet.  No ponytail seedlings have emerged so far.  
Poppy- The variety I am growing is called "oriental Red," and it's a gorgeous red flower with a dark, almost black center. I had under a 50% germination rate with these seeds, but luckily, I don't hold my seed packets accountable to the same high standards that I have for my heart surgeons, seat-belts, and parachutes.  I'm ok with 40% germination in these beautiful flowers, and it was well worth the $1.29 I paid for the seed packet.
Delphinium- Oh my god I love Delphiniums. Their beautiful tall spires will look great in my cottage garden out front, and I'm happy to report that, of the 5 containers that I started, 2 seeds germinated.

growing black eyed susans from seedgrowing bush beans from seed

growing poppys from seedmore black eyed susans

growing purple coneflower from seedgrowing nasturtium from seed

growing sunflower from seedgrowing wildflowers from seed

In other news, Sean is still dreamy and handsome.  Here is the coldframe he built for me to start my seeds in.  The high back creates easy access for watering, and can be flipped open for ventilation on hot days.  We just cover it at night with a plastic drop cloth to protect from frost.

So, for all you other CHUMPs out there, I'd definitely recommend growing perennials from seed as a way to get more bang for your landscaping buck. In fact, to help you get started, I've got some ornamental grass seeds you can borrow. Happy growing!


  1. You are more than welcome to a clump of the ornamental grass in my front weed bed. I really need to thin it and have just spent the last 3 days pulling out other weeds.

  2. Actually, Randy has been coming over every night and pulling up your seedlings because he hates invasive ornamental grasses with the fiery passion of a slightly miffed housecat. On the plus side, he might be able to help you out with seeds/starts from the tall native grass we've got growing in our backyard. Side note: we planted a seed mix several years ago that was supposed to have about five different varieties of native grasses, but only ended up with one. So maybe grasses are just like that.