Sometimes it seems as though nature can disperse viable perennial seeds to grow everywhere but germinating the seed at home is a challenge. Typically this is because the seeds are conditioned to go through specific conditions prior to germination. For plants native to the north such as the native Echinaceas, that includes a cold period whereas lavender and rosemary, which are native to the Mediterranean, require excellent drainage and warmth to germinate. Many perennials though, such as Asclepias (Butterfly Weed) and Alaska Shasta Daisies can be grown very successfully from seed.
When sowing seeds for perennial flowers, you need to have a good potting mix and a warm area to germinate the seeds. Sow the seeds as you would annual flowers by sprinkling over the damp potting mix and cover very lightly with more mix. Cover the seeds with plastic wrap to keep the soil moist while the seeds germinate. It takes most perennial seeds three to five weeks to germinate so you do need to be patient. Frequently some of the seeds from the same variety will germinate faster than others so you will have a few seeds up and growing while others are still dormant. Place the seedlings into good light and let them grow. Do not expect all the seeds to germinate. For perennials the germination rate may be as low as 50% in some varieties, compared to almost 95% of annual seed that will germinate.
You can increase the germination rate by chilling the seeds before you sow them and/or soaking them.
When the seed does germinate, the first leaves will be simple leaves and some true leaves will follow. The early leaves do not always look like the mature leaf, so don’t worry if they look different. The seedlings will grow slower than most annuals, and you will need to account for that by starting the seeds as much as 10 to 12 weeks before your frost date.
When the seedlings are large enough to put into the flower bed, treat them as any other seedling by hardening them off for a few days, and ensuring that they get enough water every day. The young perennial will grow steadily the first year but they do not always flower that first year.
Clearly growing perennials from seed is slightly different to growing annuals, but it is just as worthwhile. You just need to have a little patience and realistic expectations of the number of plants that will come from the seed packet.