Manawatu Standard

Nurture the look of nature

For the ultimate nod to keeping things natural, mix grasses with flowering perennials, planted tightly in drifts, says

- Julia Atkinson-dunn.

If I squint, I can almost see beyond the bare garden and frosty mornings for those first signs of spring and what will hopefully be the beginnings of my new garden beds. am deeply inspired by the naturalist­ic style of planting, spurred on by the New Perennial Movement, the creation of a rich, visual garden offering a gentle wave of change and interest as the season progresses, and planted to suit my coastal Canterbury climate of cold winters and hot dry summers.

I have a mountain of jobs to tend to first, including removing some trees, extending irrigation and reclaiming lawn, but I have been avoiding them by researchin­g plant options.

A hallmark of the naturalist­ic style is mixing grasses with flowering perennials, planted tightly in drifts that mimic a wild landscape, albeit an imagined and curated one.

Already somewhat obsessed with interestin­g, airy perennials, I have started gathering a list of options that I will ultimately select my combinatio­n from. I’m forcing myself to consider seasonal colour and layers, a variation of petal form and ultimately seed head structure.

I thought it might be helpful to share some of the plants I’m eyeing up to aid anyone else considerin­g creating a garden of this type.


Grasses provide the soft structure in a naturalist­ic garden, particular­ly heading into the winter months as flowering perennials become skeletal.

Of particular appeal for me is the large Stipa gigantea ‘Golden Oates’ or, more so, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, with its slender leaves and tall flowers maturing from rust to fans of fluffy cream.

I’m also tossing up the use of Calamagros­tis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, a feathery reed grass with tall tan spikes that remind me a little of wheat.

In the mix too are varieties of Briza with its beautiful, delicate flowering stems that dangle little ‘‘heart-shaped lockets’’ as so wonderfull­y described by Puriri Lane Nursery where I have been deep in research.

In particular, Briza media ‘Limouzi’ has me entranced with its soft green foliage and slightly taller stature than others.

Some terrific New Zealand natives on my list are Poa cita, a densely tufted tussock and Carex buchananii with its lovely wispy, bronze leaves. The latter, however, doesn’t appreciate the end of winter cut-back that all others would be subject to within the naturalist­ic planting.

Perhaps the most appealing is Chinochloa flavicans, the miniature toetoe with its recognisab­le feathery flowers.

Early-season flowering

In the late winter of a naturalist­ic garden, the grasses and dry structural frames of perennials are cut right back to reveal a very low and calm moment in the bed.

As summer perennials begin to bolster their foliage once again, I have been identifyin­g some early to late spring flowering options.

Bulbs are an obvious option, in particular drifts of old-fashioned daffodils such as ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ or even tulips. Delicate beardless irises would be beautiful too, particular­ly varieties of Iris siberica or the New Zealand native Libertia peregrinan­s.

For later, I have my eye on the fantastica­l

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