Midwest Regional Reports

The Best Perennials to Start from Seed – Midwest

Perennials to start from seed

Fine Gardening – Issue 155

1. Pasque flower

Name: Pulsatilla patens

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8

Size: 6 to 10 inches tall and 10 to 12 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

What would spring be without fuzzy, ephemeral pasque flower? This plant, also known as prairie crocus, rustles from dormancy in March and April with steely purple flowers. But for seed starters, half the joy of pasque flower follows its momentary blossoming: Spidery heads of seeds dry into wind-borne tails that pleasantly find their way around the garden floor. Collect them before they shatter, and enjoy planting the seeds where you want them—instead of where the wind takes them.


2. Shell-leaf penstemon

Name: Penstemon grandiflorus and cvs.

Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 20 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

This prince of the penstemons deserves wider recognition in midwestern gardens. Aptly named, shell-leaf penstemon has nearly plastic aquamarine leaves that offer interest before and after the plant blooms, although its flowers are surely the treat. In colors ranging from wild-type white and lavender to carefully selected red and ruby, seed strains of this prairie native, such as ‘Prairie Jewel’ an

d ‘War Axe’, underscore how entertaining this species is from seed. Short-lived in wet soils, it prefers excellent drainage and, once established, will reward with large flowers and effusive displays.


3. Golden millet

Name: Milium effusum ‘Aureum’

Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 12 to 16 inches tall and 8 to 12 inches wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist soil

The Latin name of this plant (also known as Bowles’ golden grass) means “gushing gold millet,” which is apt. Wavy blades of chartreuse to bright gold have the potential to augment everything in the shade garden from heucheras (Heuchera spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8) to hostas (Hosta spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9). Golden millet is an excellent plant for colorful combos and a great ground cover to plant in meadowy masses. From seed, it’s a cinch: Plant the seed, be patient, and watch the acid yellow sprouts grow into sunshine tussocks. This plant prefers moist soils and will go dormant in summer in hot climates.


4. Bladder campion

Name: Silene uniflora and cvs.

Zones: 3 to 7

Size: 4 to 8 inches tall and 6 to 12 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained to dry soil

Once established in your garden, you’ll understand why this species and its many variations are easily grown from seed. Although bladder campion is hardly a pest, its effortless reseeding illustrates just how easy raising seedlings from the jet black specks can be. In the garden, miniature balloons inflate into a cloud of flowers early in summer, making the plant a graceful addition to a rock garden or along a garden path. If you’re of the anything-but-green persuasion, check out ‘Druett’s Variegated’ for added foliar pizzazz.

Kelly D. Norris is a plantsman, an author, and the horticulture manager at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden in Iowa.

Photos, except where noted: Bill Johnson; center right, Jerry Pavia; bottom, courtesy of Kelly D. Norris

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