Gar­den to visit Pen­sthorpe Mil­len­nium Gar­den is a daz­zling prairie gar­den in ru­ral Nor­folk

This daz­zling Mil­len­nium Gar­den in the heart of Nor­folk is a feast for the senses. Melissa Mab­bitt rev­els in the plants

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

The mel­low days of late sum­mer and early au­tumn bring out the best in prairie-style plant­ings. At Pen­sthorpe Mil­len­nium Gar­den in Nor­folk the beauty of this mod­ern style has been per­fected, reach­ing its at­mo­spheric and colour­ful peak in Septem­ber. The one-acre gar­den was com­pleted in 1999, the first Bri­tish pub­lic gar­den de­signed by Dutch plants­man Piet Ou­dolf, orig­i­na­tor of the mod­ern prairie style. To­day it blends seam­lessly with its sur­round­ings – a large na­ture re­serve that was home to BBC Spring­watch from 2008–2010. In de­vis­ing the prairie look (or ‘new peren­nial’ style of plant­ing) Ou­dolf made a de­par­ture from the mixed herba­ceous bor­ders so of­ten found in Bri­tish gardens. In­stead this style evokes the nat­u­ral land­scape, mim­ick­ing the colonies of tall flow­er­ing peren­ni­als and grasses that epit­o­mise open grass­lands. Planted in large, flow­ing groups, the com­bi­na­tion of forms is tran­quil yet cap­ti­vat­ing as the eye moves from group to group of com­ple­men­tary forms. Tac­tile grass seed­heads cre­ate a hazy foil for the strong, sculp­tural out­lines of herba­ceous peren­ni­als such as phlomis, monarda and achil­lea. Swathes of echi­nacea, he­le­nium and other late­sum­mer daisies are in­te­gral to the look, along­side long plumes of astilbe, spikes of veron­i­cas­trum and del­i­cately branch­ing Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis, all of which work to­gether to make a beau­ti­ful ta­pes­try filled with rich colours and tex­tures. The plants in this gar­den get into their stride in late sum­mer. They’re mostly tall and airy, cre­at­ing move­ment when the sum­mer breeze catches their stems. By now the grasses have pro­duced the tac­tile flow­ers and seed­heads so cru­cial to ty­ing

“Tac­tile grass seed­heads cre­ate a hazy foil for the strong, sculp­tural out­lines of flow­er­ing peren­ni­als”

the de­sign to­gether. The colours are warm and com­plex, with a rich va­ri­ety of hues and tints. Bright pink and pur­ple blooms pro­vide eye-catch­ing ac­cents among more muted gold and fawn grasses, the sun­bleached seed­heads of descamp­sia and yel­low-or­ange he­le­ni­ums that form a golden thread through the plant­ings. The beds are wide and deep, cut through with gravel paths that al­low you to sur­vey the rolling mass from ev­ery an­gle. In ev­ery di­rec­tion are fab­u­lous con­trasts of colour and form: plumes of mis­cant­hus and astilbe set against the flat daisies of echi­nacea, while spires of salvia and lol­lipops of echinops float against a mist of del­i­cate blue per­ovskia. Birds and but­ter­flies are at­tracted to the nec­tar- and seed-rich plant­ings too. On a warm sunny day you might see pea­cock, brim­stone, painted lady, red ad­mi­ral and comma but­ter­flies flit­ting among the flow­ers. In late Septem­ber, small birds alight on the echi­nacea and grasses to feast on the seeds within. Although prairies are syn­ony­mous with the Amer­i­cas, Ou­dolf’s style is dis­tinctly Euro­pean. A Dutch gar­den de­signer and plant ex­pert, he was in­spired by our own wild land­scapes and driven to cre­ate mood and at­mos­phere in a gar­den in the same way that a painter would on can­vas.

“The beds are... cut through with gravel paths that al­low you to sur­vey the rolling mass from ev­ery an­gle”

Ou­dolf’s de­signs gained pop­u­lar­ity in Ger­many in the late 20th cen­tury and made their way to Bri­tain in the 1990s. The Pen­sthorpe gar­den be­came a Bri­tish show­case and he re­turned in 2010 to com­pletely re­plant it. With the ben­e­fit of 10 years hind­sight he’d dis­cov­ered how prairie gardens evolve, and had found the best­be­haved plants for looks and longevity. It’s a stun­ning place to visit in the depths of winter when the seed­heads are traced in frost, but Septem­ber is the month for a plant­ing mas­ter­class in colour and tex­ture, as the gar­den forms a spectacular sea that your senses can al­most swim in.

Agas­tache foenicu­lum

PRAIRIE PER­FEC­TION (L-R) This gor­geous sea of plant­ing in­cludes banks of pink lythrum, dark, slen­der stemmed cimi­cifuga, he­le­ni­ums, astilbe ‘Pur­ple­lanze’ and a fluffy mass of de­schamp­sia ‘Gold­tau’; shim­mer­ing per­ovskia ‘Blue Star’ with echinops ‘Veitch’s Blue’ and

RICH TA­PES­TRY (clock­wise from top) Rusty-toned astilbe, echi­nacea, plumes of Cala­m­a­grostis brachytricha, white ac­taea and pink eu­pa­to­rium; bring binoc­u­lars; a non­cha­lant crane; Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis above yel­low achil­lea and lythrum

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