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Prairie Planting

Prairie Planting

The fashion of Prairie Planting has encouraged the use of ornamental grasses in the garden. This style of gardening originated in mid-west America as a way of mimicking the vast wild grasslands found there but on a garden scale.  Many grass species would be planted together in large blocks alongside similarly bold groupings of native plants such as Echinacea, Verbascum, Monarda, Solidago, Phlox, Rudbeckia, Asters and Helenuims.

To create your own Prairie border will require an open site away from trees that provides at least 4 to 5 hours of good sunshine a day.  Well drained soil is essential with increased organic matter from farmyard manure and Horticultural Grit dug in.  If you’re on a budget the cheapest way to create the look is to sow a mixture of grasses and herbaceous seeds directly into the ground in March.  Otherwise pot grown plants can be planted together en masse in summer.

Great grasses to choose include:

  • Stipa Gigantia, a tall non-evergreen that grows to 2m with fluffy purplish seed heads in midsummer and autumn which turn golden brown later.
  • Miscanthus ‘Karl Forester’, is upright at 1.5m tall. An evergreen reed grass bearing feathery plumes in the summer and bleached stems in autumn and winter. The seed heads are also great food for birds.
  • Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’, the Blue Grass, has tiny blue flowers in in late summer. It is spreading and evergreen reaching an eventual height of 1.4 metres.
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yakushima Dwarf’ is ideal for smaller areas where its spiky flower plumes grow to a manageable 100 cm in height with flowers in summer. The winter foliage looks great with frost on and birds and bugs love them.
  • Malinia ‘Edith Dudszus’ has long narrow purple flower spikes 80cm in height all summer with bright green leaves.
  • Miscanthus sinensis. ‘Morning Light’ has bold variegated leaves and compact growth, 120cm tall. It looks great on its own but is also a perfect backdrop to yellow gold and red perennials.

Good perennials to grow with these grasses are Echinacea or Coneflowers with large classic daisy like flowers above plain green leaves.  They are sun loving and drought resistant flowering in August and September in many colours from white yellow red to purple. The pollen will also attract butterflies and bees while the seed heads are great for the birds in winter.  Regular deadheading encourages more flowers.  Low maintenance and trouble free they will add great colour to any garden in the late summer and autumn.

Rudbeckia are members of the Aster family that flower in a large range of warm colours but especially yellow and orange. They also cope well in many situations from dry to moist and sun to partial shade.  They are perennial and spread with creeping rhizome stems and grow to an average of 80cm.   They seed themselves easily.

Try the variety Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’ otherwise called Black Eyed Susan which has thin yellow petals surrounding a large raised black central disk.  It flowers from August to October and being only 60cm tall it will not require staking.  ‘Little Gold Star’ is like Goldstrum but smaller.  If you’re looking for larger flowered hybrids ‘Summerina Pecan Pie’, ‘Summerina Brownii’ or the striking double yellow orange and mahogany red flowers of ‘Sunbeckia Carla’ are an absolute must.

Crocosmias have sword like leaves and delicate spikes of trumpet like flowers in hot reds, orange and yellow from mid to late summer.  Although native to South Africa their grass like appearance makes them very complimentary additions to any Prairie design.  It is a perennial that dies back to a cluster of small bulbs every winter.  Some varieties can grow as tall as 150cm which makes them great for adding height to the design like the bold Miscanthus grasses.  Although they have no scent their exotic blooms might just attract an African Hummingbird Hawk Moth to your patch.

Crocosmia ‘Emily Mckensie’ grows to 70cm with unusual bicoloured red and brown flowers while ‘Paul’s Best’ is yellow and grows to 150cm high.  ‘Walberton’s Yellow’ is another great hybrid with large orange yellow large flowers while ‘Walberton’s Bright Eyes’ is very free flowering 95cm tall and vibrant orange with a red centre.

If you don’t have a large garden there’s no reason why you can’t still add a little bit of the Prairie to your patio.  Just use the right size grasses Miscanthus ‘Karl Forester’ and Stipa gigantea for big designs, Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ and Panicum ‘Prairie Sky’ for medium and Miscanthus Yakushima Dwarf for smaller plantings.  Then just downsize the amounts of perennial groupings you plant with them. These can be in different pots but grouped together. An all “Grassy” container of Festuca Blue Fox, with Carex and Rudbeckia ‘Little Gold Star’ is a great small grouping.

Then just sit back and watch your Prairie Garden grow along with the wildlife you have encouraged.

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