Finding the best perennials from seed

November 10th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

First year flowering perennials on the MrFothergill's trials

This year on the Mr Fothergill’s trial ground in Suffolk, one hundred and forty four perennials were raised from seed and planted out side by side to be assessed. The aim was to see which really flowered well in their first year.

I looked over the trial twice and one thing was very clear: you don’t have to spend £3, £4, £5 or more on just one perennial plant when you can spend £2.69 on a packet of seeds that will give you enough plants to fill a border!

I’ll be looking at some of the stars in the next few posts but, in general, these are the plants that really stood out.

The achilleas covered a wide colour range and were very prolific while the agastaches were stunning, with masses of flowers until late in the season and with aromatic foliage – and they really are bee magnets. Coreopsis, too, were a success and so much more robust that annual types, although the colour range is very limited; they too continued well into autumn.

First year flowering perennials on the MrFothergill's trialsI was impressed with the gaillardias, especially the single red ‘Firewheels’, and heliopsis were good – sort of like sophisticated rudbeckias. ‘Prima Ballerina’ stood out but in my trial garden ‘Burning Hearts’ beat just about everything.

Penstemons were absolutely dazzling and even the almost-hardy Dahlia merckii, a single flowered wild species from Mexico, began flowering in August although the plants were huge.

Alison Mulvaney, Technical Manager at Mr F, explained how they were grown.

“The seeds were sown in early in March on the hot bench in the polytunnel,” she told me. “Most of them had germinated and were pricked out into 6 or 9 cell packs by the end of April.

“We grew them on in the polytunnel in cooler conditions until mid May when they were moved outside for hardening off. We covered them with fleece on really cold nights but otherwise they were left to fend for themselves and they were transplanted outside in the first week of June.

“Over the summer we identified around twelve potential new varieties that are on the list of ‘possibles’ for introduction – depending on availability and price!”.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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