Natural planting using swathes of gently-swaying grasses shot through with drifts of tall, open perennials to mimic the wild look of the American prairie lands caught the imagination of gardeners across Europe in the 1990s, and it's been going strong ever since - you can see some fabulous examples at public gardens like Trentham in Staffordshire. It's a look you can adapt easily at home in Surrey for a gorgeous, contemporary design that's also very low maintenance.
You'll find all the plants you need in our garden centre: here's how to create your own back-garden prairie.
- Choose the right spot: prairies need sunshine, so pick an open, bright area of your garden, preferably not too damp as most prairie-style plants prefer free-draining conditions.
- Restrict your varieties: prairie planting relies on repetition for its effect, so limit your range of plants to a handful of grass varieties and a few perennials or annuals - just plant lots of them.
- Start with the grasses: these form the backbone of your design, so choose carefully. Tall grasses move gracefully in the wind: good choices are Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster', Molinia caerulea 'Transparent' or evergreen Stipa gigantea. All have spectacular flowers which sparkle in the frosts of winter.
- Mix in the flowers: flat-headed or spherical flowers work best with grasses as contrasts in texture and shape. They often flower at the same height, too, giving that level prairie-like look. Go for achilleas, autumn-flowering asters, and other daisies: both echinacea and rudbeckias were made for prairie settings.
- Plant in drifts: design your planting not in blobby groups, but in drifts of the same plant meandering naturally in waves through the design. Plant seven, nine or eleven of the same plant together: be generous for maximum impact.
- Don't be too tidy: part of the charm of a prairie planting is the effect of frosty winter weather on seedheads and dead stems, so leave clearing up until February, when you can just chop everything back down to the ground and let it do it all over again.
Please ask the staff in our Surrey garden centre for more information and advice about designing prairie planting.