Inspired by the American plains, prairie and meadow gardens not only maintain their interest year round, they’re low maintenance and wildlife friendly
Prairie and meadow gardens traditionally consist of a mix of grasses and perennials. The advantage of this style is that interesting shapes, f lowers and resulting seed heads maintain the visual appeal through the seasons. Plus, plants don’t have to be deadheaded or cut back after f lowering, keeping maintenance to a minimum. Another benefit is that the f lowering plants attract pollinating insects, while the seed heads bring the birds.
Grasses form the backbone of a prairie garden, and fortunately, most nurseries carry a good selection. Choose varieties with different heights and interesting seed heads, for example Melinis repens ‘Natal Redtop’ and Chasmanthium latifolium. For coloured foliage, try Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (purple fountain) and Imperata ‘Red Baron’ while Muhlenbergia dumosa and Setaria megaphylla provide attractive texture. Interplant these with the following longf lowering perennials and create impact with repeat plantings in large groups.
1 COSMOS ( COSMOS BIPINNATUS)
Just as cosmos brings the roadsides to life in autumn, it’ll do the same in a prairie garden. Sow the seeds in situ in early spring so the plants are established before the hot weather arrives. Use MayFord’s low-growing yellow and orange C. sulphureus ‘Poliodor Mix’ towards the front of the bed, and pretty white ‘Picotee’, which has a crimson edge to lighten up the back of the bed.
2 CONEFLOWER ( ECHINACEA SPP.)
Conef lowers are popular perennials as they’re heat and drought resistant, easy to grow, bloom for months, make great cut f lowers, and attract birds and pollinators. They come in shades of pink, orange, yellow, red and chartreuse, as well as a range of f lower forms. ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ from Ball Straathof has a wide colour range and well-branched habit, while ‘Pow Wow’ is compact. Leave the seed heads to mature on the plant and self-seed.
3 TICKSEED ( COREOPSIS SPP.)
There are more than 100 different species of tickseed and growers have had a field day creating some spectacular varieties. New on the market from Ball Straathof are ‘Double the Sun’, which has large yellow blooms, and the bicolour ‘UpTick Gold and Bronze’ (pictured). The fernlike foliage is also appealing. Although they’re hardy, they don’t tend to live longer than three to five years.
NOTE: Coreopsis lanceolate is a declared invader throughout South Africa and must be eradicated.
4 SUNFLOWERS ( HELIANTHUS SPP.)
A few sunf lower seeds randomly popped between grasses and ornamentals will add vertical interest. Sow a fresh batch every couple of weeks to ensure a continuous parade of blooms until the first frost. Once the central f lower has finished f lowering, snip it off as this will encourage smaller f lowers to develop from side shoots for a longer display.
5 BLANKET FLOWERS ( GAILLARDIA SPP.)
Richly coloured gaillardias are easy to grow, but short-lived. However, they make up for this by blooming almost continuously. Their daisy-like blooms are a magnet for butterf lies and other pollinators. Keep them going by dividing them every two to three years. Two-tone ‘Arizona Sun’ and ‘Mesa Bright Bicolor’ both have a neat compact shape and upright habit.
6 BLACK-EYED-SUSAN ( RUDBECKIA SPP.)
These robust no-fuss, bushy perennials produce masses of blooms all summer right up until the first frosts. Usually the f lowers are yellow with a black centre, but breeders have added many colours and forms in recent years. A favourite is the clump-forming Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ (pictured), which is particularly effective when planted among grasses.
Include grasses like Melinis repens ‘Natal Redtop’ (left) and Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubum’ (purple fountain) (right) in a meadow garden for their seedheads and to add movement.