What is “in style” changes rapidly, but larger design trends may last for years. Currently natural landscape design is in and not just any natural landscape. Prairie.
It makes sense, starting a woodland or wetland takes time. So, we turn to the prairie to provide us with that quick feel good natural look. It’s a fast process. Prairies are full of perennials, grasses, annuals, and biennials that fill in rapidly and perform within one to three years. The problem is that first feel good rush may be great in the moment, but leave you with a headache the next day.
Prairies are complicated places that constantly and rapidly evolve. Annuals don’t return the following year, perennials self-seed everywhere, the strong crowd out the weak, and invasive plants move in. In the natural world Mother Nature just keeps evolving and changing and layering and it is beautiful.
So here is your pie in the sky goal: Replicate that large epic prairie garden at the conservatory that makes you catch your breath at its pure wild chaotic beauty. At this point let’s remember it is a nice chaos only because it was planned by a horticulturalist on a computer layout that boggles the mind, installed in a properly prepped bed and then maintained by a trained staff (although these beds can be quite low maintenance).
Your first decision is how far do you want to go, how much space do you have, and where is that space located on your property?
Requirements for planting a large area:
A water source to get things started (although planting in the fall or early spring will lesson that need).
A neighborhood that is accepting of the look you are going for or an area where only you can see it.
Clearing the area of existing vegetation.
Installation may involve many small plants to infill rapidly. You may be able to use more varieties of plants if the area is large. Source locally and look for plugs.
Maintenance means keeping an eye out for invasive plants and clearing the area in late winter for the next season’s growth.
Lastly you must be flexible. It will NOT go as you plan. Plants are living things and they are smart. The strong ones elbow out the weak, some self-seed, soil moisture or light may affect who thrives where. You cannot control everything.
Smaller existing beds or a tight space:
You still need full sun.
And a water source to get things started (although planting in the fall or early spring will lesson that need).
This bed may not impact your neighborhood or HOA like removing a large lawn.
Clean out and prep the bed.
Purchase 1 gallon and qt plants like you would for most garden plantings.
Maintenance will mean weeding and cutting back on a much smaller scale.
Remember you cannot use the same number of varieties for a smaller area. Choose perennials that perform for longer periods of time and self-seed less aggressively.
Your planting may be less complicated than nature, but give you the same feeling. A mass of grasses waving in the wind with one type of flower popping through can create the feeling you are striving for. In the end that is what we want, the emotion that ecosystem creates in us. It can be done on a grand scale or in an intimate urban space.
Check out this link to a horticulturalist who is immersed in the current design trends for more in depth reading: