This section is from the book "How To Make A Flower Garden", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
Two years ago, in the spring, I had a plot of ground running parallel with a fence plowed for a hardy border. It was dressed with barnyard manure, and harrowed and worked occasionally, so that last summer the ground was in excellent condition to receive the plants. I knew that to fill any border with such plants as I desired would cost seven or eight dollars (since divided plants from the nursery cost from fifteen to twenty-five cents each), while I found by consulting the catalogue that I could procure a packet of seeds of nearly all the sorts I most wanted for less than a dollar, including some good novelties.
I had grown greenhouse plants from seed, and knew that hardy perennials would be less difficult. So. I procured the seed by May 24th, after the more urgent work in the garden had been done, and sowed them in shallow boxes, in rows an inch and a half apart and the same distance apart in the row, dropping them in singly. They were covered with soil to a depth of twice their diameter, and pressed down firmly. The top of the soil was moistened by applying the water with a whiskbroom; after this the soil was wet thoroughly two or three times in the same way, until it settled, and then the water was turned on carefully from a dipper.
The boxes were on a sunny piazza, and the soil was carefully watched that it might not become more than slightly dry. The seeds germinated well; none of the sorts failed to grow, with the solitary exception of a packet of platycodon, out of which one-third of the seeds failed; but, as it was, I had more plants than were needed. The seeds of a kind did not all appear together, some making their appearance ten days or more after the first ones broke the soil. The only care given the seedlings was to keep them from becoming excessively dry and to avoid applying water so freely as to keep the soil sodden.
The young plants grew vigorously, and when they became crowded were transplanted to temporary beds in the garden, which had been previously devoted to annuals, as these beds were more suitable than newly spaded greensward, being light and mellow, yet only moderately rich. The plants were set about eight inches apart, so that they would have sufficient room until they were to be permanently planted in September.
Double hollyhocks in a border of perennials The hollyhock it biennial, but it is usually treated as a perennial, as It renews itself regularly from seed with a minimum of care.
The experiment was so satisfactory that I do not hesitate to recommend it. Better plants can be secured with but little work, for only the largest and most vigorous plants will furnish the required number. This alone, if the saving of money is not considered, would recommend the plan, except when one is bent upon having a particular variety of phlox, iris or peony, or other species having many named varieties. Surplus plants are available for exchange among one's neighbours, or for sale if one is so inclined.
It so happened that the year I speak of I had old plants of iris, peony, phlox, ranunculus and bleeding heart, all of which I was able to propagate by dividing the clumps. I therefore bought only seven kinds of seeds: forget-me-nots, coreopsis, hibiscus, platycodon, ipomopsis, hardy carnation, and one other kind, the name of which I have forgotten. However, some of the best seed catalogues give a long list of kinds that are easily raised from seed, and some catalogues indicate the kinds which will bloom the first year from seed.