Meadow-style gardens are making a comeback – South Coast Herald
Prairie-style gardening is forward-looking but has its roots in the past and is inspired by nature.
The wildflowers of the world are rich in traditions, history and old-world romance. However, according to Life is a Garden, they are under constant threat of extinction. This is due to urban development, human ignorance, greed and environmental destruction.
To stop the devastation, gardeners around the world are taking a fresh look at what is meant by beautiful gardens. The new trend in gardening uses plant communities that grow well together.
The advantages of this new style of landscaping are:
- minimal water use;
- no need for added fertilizers;
- no need to apply herbicides and insecticides.
The result is attractive gardens that are wildlife-friendly and a boon to the environment.
This nature-inspired approach to gardening is increasingly popular in urban and rural areas in housing estates, retirement villages and golf courses.
Municipalities such as Rotherham in the UK have planted nearly 8 miles of wildflower borders. As well as providing a dose of color and food for bees and birds, it has saved the council thousands of pounds in mowing costs.
Companies are also switching from labor-intensive lawns and flower beds to more natural landscaping, and the trend is becoming increasingly popular with homeowners.
According to Life is a Garden, the original ornamental prairie garden was inspired by the white daisies, red poppies, purple bentgrass and blue cornflowers that grew in cornfields. However, the modern prairie garden focuses on bold groupings of herbs and blocks of randomly planted perennials. To create a feeling of lightness, include annuals and “transparent” plants, such as gaura, thalictrum and bronze fennel (Foeniculum cultivar Rubrum).
A large area laid out as a pre-garden should have room for mown paths. If you have limited space, you can plant a ‘mini’ meadow along a patio or along the edge of the driveway, with flowers and herbs selected in proportion to the site.
Grasses, with their different growth habits of spikes and acorns, fountains and plumes, play a vital role in introducing sound, movement, texture and subtle color. The best choices are clump-forming grasses that are not listed as invasive alien species, planted in large groups.
There are several suitable non-invasive flowers from other countries that combine well with South African flora to create modern prairie-style gardens. Many prairie – French for prairie – perennials, such as penstemon, coneflower, daisy gloriosa and monarda (bee balm), combine beautifully with grass. All of these attractive plants attract bees, butterflies, birds and insects that act as pollinators.
For more impact, plant flowers of different shapes and heights in large groups. For example, combine the arrows of salvia and penstemon with the flat flower heads of achillea and daisies.
Colors can be softened with dusky pinks of echinacea and sedum, agastache and mauve scabious, lavender blue Russian sage (perovskia), lavender penstemon and steel blue eryngium.
Alternatively, you can combine bright colors. For example, a color cluster of apricot watsonias, purple salvia, apricot watsonias, giant statice (Limonium perezii), bronze and orange daylilies, and Salvia africa-lutea would be striking among the bronze grass.
Daisies are a must have for prairie gardens and come in different heights and colors. Consider euryops, felicia, daisy, Shasta, bidens, ursinia, gaillardia, cosmos, Michaelmas daisy, and sunflower.
Include flowers with attractive seed heads, such as coneflower, sea holly (eryngium), scabious, rudbeckia, sunflower, love in the mist (Nigella damascena), brunsvigia, Boophane disticha and field thistle (echinops).
A fantastic choice is available if you prefer to use only native plants and grass.
Native grass types include red grass (Melinis nerviglumis), heart-seed love grass (Eragrostis capensis), Chlorophytum saundersiae with its narrow green leaves and starry white flowers, and Aristida junciformis with its buds of honey-colored seeds.
Orange aloes will brighten up the meadow in winter, as well as large orange lion’s ear (Leonotis leonurus), pincushions, crocosmias and chasmanthus.
It helps to freshen things up in spring and summer with blue and indigo agapanthus and the bold blue flowers of hedgehog sage (Pycnostachys urticifolia).
A softer grouping of colors might be native wild foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba), white dieters, rose sage bush (Orthosiphon labiatus) and purple scabious – all planted in large groups.
Low-growing blue cape oblivion (Anchusa capensis), orange and yellow bulbine, and gazania help fill in the gaps, and bulbs of galtonia, venom, gladioli species, watsonia, dierama, and bulbinella will provide seasonal interest.
Fall and winter are good times of year to establish a prairie garden when growth tends to be slow and plants can become established before spring.
- Choose an area of your garden that receives six to eight hours of sunlight per day.
- Only loosen the top few inches of soil, as digging deep will bring any buried weed seeds to the surface.
- The soil should not be too rich, especially if you are using mostly native plants.
- In smaller gardens, use shorter flowers and grasses.
- Restrict the variety of plants. Choose plants that thrive in your local conditions and repeat plantings in bold groups.
- Always buy plants from reputable nurseries.
Some tidying up and weeding will be necessary from time to time. However, once your garden meadow is established, it will be largely self-sufficient.
Writer: Sarah Jane Meyer