Friday, 26 April 2013

Prairie Planting

Prairie planting is one of the most popular modern planting styles it is relaxed and is a man made re-creation of natural plant associations.

The plants are grouped naturally in drifts and allowed to grow and behave naturally.  This results in a much easier style of gardening.  Many of the plants only need to be cut back once a year and very little, if any, watering or feeding is required.  Prairie plants have to be tough and able to withstand drought and freezing temperatures.  It is therefore an ideal style for anyone with little time, or inclination, for gardening.

Prairie planting will look at its absolute best from early June to February when it needs to be cut back so that the new growth can come through.  However there is interest in the new growth that the plants put on from March/April onwards when the fresh green shoots emerge.

Prairie schemes work to full effect in larger areas so that big groups of plants can be used.  It is also best not to use too close to houses as the jump from the structure of the buildings to the informal planting may well jar.  A buffer zone between the two creates a more pleasing effect.

All Prairie planting schemes need to have a foundation of grasses which, once established, help to keep invasive weeds at bay.  The flowering plants are best kept to a colour theme to tie everything together.  The idea is to have areas of colour offset by a neutral background.  Plant in big groups and never in straight lines.

Some of the best plants to use include the following:


Miscanthus sinensis cultivars – large and very beautiful, the flowers are often pink.  Dried flower and seedheads remain all winter and look stunning in low light.

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ – Very upright and stands all through the winter.

Stipa calamagrostis – not too tall and has elegant droopy flowers over very long period.

Anamanthele lessoniana – Superb autumn colour and looks good all winter.

Panicum ‘Shenandoah’ – very fine flowers.  Delicate.

Pennisetum – fluffy flower heads.


Rudbeckia – long flowering daisy shape. 

Achillea – comes in lots of colours.

Echinacea purpurea cultivars – large and bold daisy flowers.

Helenium ‘Indian Summer’ – russet autumn colours.

Sanguisorba officinalis – red button flowers.

Knautia macedonica – claret flowers.

Monarda cultivars – butterflies and bees love it.

Eupatorium purpureum ‘Atropurpureum’ – tall and dramatic with pink flowers.

Verbena bonariensis – allow it to self seed.

Vernonia – tall daisy like flowers.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Eye Candy

Plant of the Week - Anemone nemorosa 'Robinsoniana'.

Eye Candy Credentials - This little anemone, a close relative of our native wood anemone, is beautiful in its' simplicity.  The buds and backs of the petals are dove grey and when the flowers open in the spring sunshine they are a delicate lavender blue.  When you see these in flower you know that, finally, spring has arrived.  This is quite simply lovely and worth nurturing and waiting for.

How to Grow - This is a woodland plant so it needs humus rich soil in light or dappled shade.  If you try to recreate the floor of a deciduous wood before the leaves are fully open you should not go too far wrong.  A good layer of leaf mould applied once the plant has become dormant in the summer is all they really need.  Try to avoid using manure or anything too rich and this will overwhelm them.

Looks Good With - Pulmonaria 'Moonstone', Dicentra spectabilis Alba, Millium effusum 'Aureum'.

Technical Stuff - Wood anemones are rhizomatous perennials that originate from the woods and mountain pastures of Europe.  They will grow about 15 cm high and spread about 30 cm and flower from April to May.  Once they have finished flowering they will become dormant and die down until the following spring.  If you want to grow these from rhizomes they will arrive looking like a small collection of little brown twigs.  Do not plant too deep.  They take a while to establish and don't spread very quickly.  The variety 'Robinsoniana' was named by the Oxford Botanical Garden in 1870 and was mentioned by William Robinson - he of 'The Wild Garden' - in 1887.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Designing With Plants

Given that this is the time of year when many people decide to revamp their planting I thought it might be helpful to look at how to use plants as part of a designed scheme.

The basic principles of designing with plants are the same as for any work of visual composition.  Decide what style or feel you want to create and then start to compile a plant list.

The most important factor is to use the right plant in the right place.  There is no point fighting nature. 

When compiling your list bear in mind the following:

Form – the basic shape of the plant.  Most can be fitted into the following groups: spires (foxglove), spikes (phormium), buttons and globes (allium), umbels (achillea), daisies (aster), plumes (filipendula) and screens (stipa gigantea).


Habit – the manner in which a plant grows.  Some are very upright and tall whilst others flop or sprawl.  Some grow in horizontal layers, or explode like fireworks.

Texture – Refers to the feel of a plant, particularly with reference to its leaves.  They can be smooth and shiny, furry, spikey or deeply pleated.

Colour – Look at the stems, buds, leaves, berries and thorns as well as the flowers.  Remember that flowers do not last long so consider the overall colour of the plant you are thinking of using.


Don't forget to think about winter structure as well.  This need not be confined to evergreens, many species of herbaceous perennials die back to a good structural skeleton.  Phlomis is worth growing for this reason alone.

The best way to go about designing a scheme once you have your plant list is to group the plants into the following categories:

·         Specials or focal points.  Use very sparingly.
·         Skeletons form the green background and are often shrubs.
·         Body plants tend to rely on seasonal interest and are usually herbaceous perennials.
·         Fillers are used to add extra splashes of colour.  Bulbs and annuals are ideal for this role.
Once you are happy with your groupings start drawing up a plan starting with the Specials and working down to the Fillers.

A sense of harmony can be created by using common elements such as foliage or flower colour, leaf size or shape.  Try to avoid using too many different species as this will make the garden look bitty.  Repetition of a limited plant palette is more likely to achieve a pleasing end result.  Be bold and plant in big groups, ideally in odd numbers. This image of a stained glass window would work well as a planting plan with its bold sweeps and limited pallett of colour.

Try to create patterns with the plant groupings you want to use and remember that plants are 3 dimensional – they have height and bulk.

Perhaps the most important thing is just to have a go and be bold.