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Great Grasses: The Insouciant Elegance of Prairie Gardens

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Great Grasses: The Insouciant Elegance of Prairie Gardens

What is it about the mix of unfussy grasses and flowering perennials of prairie-style planting that has captivated so many over the past couple of decades? 

For those yet to fall for its charms, allow me to explain. A prairie garden may be thought of as the North American version of what we might term a wildflower garden and one of the key reasons for their popularity with European gardeners is their late flowering, which peaks around late summer to early autumn, when much of our native European wildflowers and perennials have passed their prime. 

Not to mention that the prairie planting style allows for a lot of wildlife opportunities, from providing pollen and nectar from perennials and shelter for insects.

So, if like many, your garden is a star in late spring and early summer, but lacking a little chromatic staying-power through the rest of the season, then you might be toying with bringing a little of the wide-skied plains home to your piece of the landscape. And right now, might just be the perfect time to start planning. 

Creating a prairie paradise 

Prairie garden draws, as you’ll no doubt have guessed, its inspiration from the vast, treeless plains of America, most especially from those dry prairie lands where the usefulness for agriculture is limited and so have maintained their natural, native species.

To recreate this, our team select prairie-style grasses and flowering perennials, like Echinacea, achillea and stipa, planting them in meandering ribbons or drifts in larger gardens or grouped in small ‘daubs’ in more compact spaces. Recreating a naturalistic, ‘blown-in-on-the-wind’ feel. .The prairies of the Great West are renowned for their endless skies and wide-open plains, with not a tree in sight, so in a true prairie garden we rely on  the taller ornamental grasses such as stipa gigantean and miscanthus sinensis and spire-form species like perovskia and veronicastrum virginica.

Planting in your Prairie garden

The prairie-style of planting, also known as new perennial planting, mainly focuses on the use of ornamental grass mixed with late-flowering perennials to help that naturalistic look and feel. 

This planting is known to be closer to the traditional perennial border and tends to include plants such as phlox and asters with the addition of ornamental grasses.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Rudbeckias are native to meadows and prairie gardens in North America. The rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’ is a thick, short-lived perennial which has a long flowering season with, daisy-like flowers in yellow, orange, red, and brown.

The Achillea ‘Terracotta’ is a tall plant forming a clump of feathery grey-green leaves, with flat sprays of deep yellow flowers which fade to cream. With toothed leaves and flattened clusters of small, daisy-like flower-heads.

Veronicastrum ‘alba’ deep green, toothed leaves and dense, slender, branched spikes of small white flowers in summer and early autumn. With erect stems bearing narrow leaves in whorls, and long terminal racemes of small flowers in summer

Maintenance on a prairie garden can be relatively low-key, compared to some other styles of garden design, but don’t be deceived, it’s still important and regularly needed.

We add a deep layer of mulch whilst plants are growing so they can be protected from any frost or damage and then acts as a blanket to protect them and keep them warm, especially in their first couple of seasons. 

Many true prairie plants have long roots that are able to tap into water deep within the earth, however, watering, especially during the first couple of seasons is a must, to get them off to a good start. 

Something it’s worth bearing in mind is that if you have trees and shrubs that will keep the sun away from these plants, they’ll need to be kept to a minimum, as too many will impede a prairie garden’s health. 

Above all, remember whilst the prairie garden is meant to look natural and relaxed, there’s still a need to keep on top of them to make them keep them looking their best. 

Whether you are dreaming of creating your own naturalistic and relaxing prairie garden, or if you’d prefer a garden with more features and structure. We are here to help bring your ideas and dreams and make them a reality. Tell us about them. 

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