When we think about prairie planting schemes we tend to look at the leaders in this area of design for inspiration and ideas. Designers such as Piet Oudulf, Nigel Dunnett and Dan Pearson have all showed it can be achievable to recreate the feel of the Native American prairies in a small space. Once established these planting schemes can provide long periods of interest. Require less watering and are drought resilient once established after their first two seasons. Also providing a rich steady nectar source for butterflies and bees .

Here are a few key rules and principles to stick to when designing a prairies planting scheme:

• use less plant species and use them on mass to create effect
• Always plant in clumps of odd numbers. Threes and fives seems to work well
• use 90degree and 45 degree angles to give the feeling of more space in a tiny garden
• Think of planting in 4 different layers. Layer one; large focal point trees and boundary hedges. Layer two; large shrubs for the backs of borders. Layer three; blocks of perennials and grasses. Layer four; annuals for infill and evergreen ground cover plants.
• use planting to draw the eye line to key garden features such as Statues, Pergolas , Arbours
• use plant with as long a flowering period as possible
• use white flowering plants in shady corners to help reflect light
• Fill in gaps with annuals such as Nicotiana mutabilis, Cosmos etc. this will help in the first season before the planting reaches maturity
• Use plants for textures as well as colours for contrast. Some good examples are : Stachys lanata, bronze fennel, Stipa tenuissima,
• Balancing seasonality ; try to balance the seasons so there is always some interest in the garden
• Cut back perennials and grasses in February instead of autumn. This way you will enjoy the dried seeds heads of the grasses and flowers over winter. Which can look quite magical in the morning mists of late autumn and winter.

A few planting combinations that work really well for late summer colour and autumn interest:

Helenium ‘Moerheim beauty’ / kniphofia Caulescens / Panicum ‘Prairie sky’ / Carex ‘Prairie fire ‘
Scabious caucasica/ Gaura ‘whirling butterflies’ / Artemisia ‘Powis castle’
Achillea ‘Moonshine’ / Salvia Caradonna/ Stipa gigantea / Physocarpus ‘Diablo’/ Achillea ‘Terrocotta’
Knautia macedonica/ Allium giganteum / Imperata ‘Red baron’ / Pennisteum rubrum
Agapanthus ‘Twister / Sidalcea ‘Little Princess’/ Carex ‘Everest’
Perovskia ‘Blue spire’ / Echinops ‘Vietchii Blue’ / Eryngium ‘Blue hobbit’ / Festuca Glauca
Helictotrichon sempivirens / Calamagrostic ‘Overdam’ / Sisyrinchium striatum / Euphorbia amydaloides ‘Purpurea’
Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ / Persicaria Pink Elephant / Scabious Columbaria

Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’

Scabiosa Caucasia

Physocarpus Diablo

Places to visit for inspiration and to pick up ideas for your garden at home:

-Great Dixter gardens in Northiam Rye, made famous by plantsman Christopher Lloyd and designed by famous architect Edn Lutyens.
-The Barbican Planting in London by Nigel Dunnett. The planting shows how plants can be used in a low maintenance naturalistic planting scheme using minimum water and providing long periods of spring , summer and autum interest.
-Sussex Prairie Garden in Sussex henfield. The garden is made up of large mixed borders of bold blocks of perennials and grasses on mass.

Happy gardening !!

Adam at Alexandra Palace 

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