Prairie Planting In A Small Garden
I get well and truly overwhelmed when visiting the plant nursery in summer – rows and rows of amazing colours, shapes and textures – it’s a dangerous place and almost impossible to leave without a load of plants that I don’t really need but cannot resist!
My favourites at this time of year are the herbaceous perennials. The word perennial refers to plants that live for more than two years. Shrubs and trees fall into this category – they are known as woody perennials. Herbaceous perennials are unlike trees and shrubs because they die back each winter to ground level. The roots lie dormant underground during the cold weather and then in spring, new shoots appear. This cycle continues year after year making them a great choice for any garden.
There are herbaceous perennials for sun and shade, moist and dry soil, and the colours, shapes and sizes vary hugely. Therefore when choosing a plant, make sure it is suitable for the spot in your garden. When picking plants to go together choose ones with a variety of leaf shape, size and colour as well as differing flower types.
Prairie planting is more popular than ever – a mix of grasses and perennials in drifts that begin to emerge early spring, and continue to put on a beautiful display of rich colours mixed with the soft texture of grasses until well into autumn.
Prairie style planting in its original form (huge swathes of plants over acres and acres of land) may be difficult to achieve on a tiny plot, but it is possible to take inspiration from this and create beauty on a significantly smaller scale. Using a mix of delicate grasses such as Stipa, Calamagrostis, Miscanthus and Pennisetum alongside a combination of spring, summer and autumn flowering perennials will achieve a long season of colour and interest, year after year.
Due to their nature, these plants die back when the weather turns colder, so to prolong the season further intermix with bulbs – daffodils, tulips and crocuses for early spring colour, alliums and Crocosmias to enhance throughout summer and in to autumn when Nerines, autumn flowering daffodils (Sternbergia lutea) and autumn crocuses come into bloom. When the perennials are finished enjoy them alongside the grasses for their winter shape (some will offer beautiful seed-heads which are also useful as winter food for the birds), only cutting back late winter/early spring before the new foliage begins to appear.
Achilleas have flat plate-like flower heads on stems in a variety of colours – orange, yellow, whites pinks and purples. Flowering June- sept they like full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Rudbeckias work well alongside these, with their large bright yellow daisy-like heads with deep black centres. Flowering from August well into autumn, they also like full sun.
Verbena bonariensis has tall elegant stems with small rounded clusters of tiny purple flowers on top. Flowering June to September, it works alongside a wide variety of plants due to its ability to hold up other plants requiring support. Echinacea and drumstick alliums (Allium sphaerocephalon) look stunning with these, and planting in front of grasses is particularly effective due to its ‘see-through’ quality.
Sanguisorba works well in full sun or part shade and has small oblong brush shaped flowers in deep reds, pinks and whites on tall stems throughout summer. great for adding movement along with grasses and the deep red ones look fab alongside daisy-shaped Heleniums.
For a partially shaded border try Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’ alongside Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ – both work beautifully together and create a heavenly journey from summer into autumn alongside the upright form of Calamagrostis x acutiflora “Karl Foerster
Perennials are great because once established they require little maintenance – the roots become very established and grow deeper into the ground – taking nutrients and moisture from the earth. However, they do require some work – weeding should be done as and when required to stop aggressive weeds from overcrowding the plants, watering and fertilising during growing season, and splitting the plants when they become too congested after a few years to encourage new growth and prolific flowering.