At the garden house, perennials are the financial equivalent of a kick in the teeth to my budget. There 's no question that they end up being worth the money- returning year after year. But sometimes I don't have the money.
In the years I've got a strict budget or a large project, I've bought perennials at the end of the season when they're heavily discounted.
I've also grown perennials from seed- which is by far the most affordable option. A seed packet usually costs $2- 4 and there are dozens, if not hundreds of seeds per packet. Not all perennials are easy to grow from seed; Lois Holes' Perennial Favourites book is a great resource and she usually includes whether the plants are easy to grow from seed. Even when she's advised against it, if its a plant I really want in my yard-- in LARGE QUANTITY- then I've tried growing it from seed just to see. It's really cheap to fail.
Here are some of the perennials I've had luck with:
Jacob's Ladder is a shade loving plant with an upright habit and some capacity to take over. I think the leaves look really unique- set closely together they form the look of a ladder. Their pretty flowers grow in purple bunches early in the summer. I grow this plant in the complete shade in a strip of dirt bordered by our deck and patio. These plants flowered the first season I transplanted them out and have grown taller and more profuse every season since.
Silver Sage is a curious looking plant. It has large blue-grey, furry leaves grown in the form of a rose. Its flowers grow atop a tall, wide stalk. I think its a bit like hens and chicks on steroids -- plus it flowers. I have it in a spot in part-shade and its grown well- though the slugs have really enjoyed the leaves. It grew to full size the second summer I transplanted it out... full size being the size of one of the larger hostas.
Yarrow is a plant I grew up picking in the Rockies. I liked it so much I tried to make my wedding bouquet out of these medicinal flowers (it turned out looking like a giant cauliflower- and so it didn't make the service!) The plants are about 2 to 3 feet tall with dusty green leaves that wave like whispy ferns. Their flowers are tiny daisy- looking things snuggled close together creating a wistful canopy. In the wild I've only seen white however you can buy plants and seeds that are many different colours including pink, orange and yellow. To grow them for their medicinal properties (Salt Spring Seeds reports that yarrow is an "Esteemed cold and fever plant. Soothes and heals external wounds and skin conditions of all kinds. An infusion of the leaves makes a nourishing tea as well as a great hair wash."), grow the white ones. In my yard, yarrow has been extremely non-fussy, winter hardy and drought tolerant.
This spring I'm looking forward to seeing if my Chinese Rhubarb and Bergamot plants survived. Both transplanted well into the garden last summer... but we'll see if they survived the test of Edmonton's longest winter in my life time.