“I love our frothy prairie plants”

This colour­ful gar­den has a light and airy feel thanks to its mix of grasses and easy-care peren­ni­als. Owner Kirsty Gro­cott shows us around

Garden Answers (UK) - - Beautiful Gardens -

This stun­ning prairie gar­den in Shrop­shire of­fers a ro­man­tic haze of late-sea­son colour. “It’s full of herba­ceous peren­ni­als and grasses that start to get go­ing in late sum­mer, then carry on into au­tumn,” says owner Kirsty Gro­cott, who lives here with her hus­band David. “Lots of the grasses are planted to­wards the west of the gar­den so that when the sun sets, the low-an­gled sun­shine lights up their stems from be­hind. It re­ally looks quite mag­i­cal.” Large stands of dra­matic Stipa gi­gan­tea lend height, el­e­gance and move­ment to the borders too. “They’ve taken over the gar­den pretty well,” says Kirsty. “We do like to let a few plants like this self-seed, to see what hap­pens. We also have lots of Stipa tenuis­sima, and a cir­cle of up­right Cala­m­a­grostis acu­ti­flora ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’ planted around the old ap­ple tree.” Other good au­tumn plants in­clude per­ovskia ‘Blue Spire’, which ma­tures to a ghostly blue as tem­per­a­tures start to dip. “We’ve planted blue globes of echinops among the feath­ery bronze fen­nel too, which is a nice con­trast of tex­ture, and Achil­lea fil­ipen­dulina ‘Cloth of Gold’, which fades from bright yel­low to a softer hue in au­tumn.” Pink-topped se­dums and wiry stems of pur­ple-flow­ered Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis help to flesh out the pic­ture. “The ver­bena has gone mad this year,” says Kirsty. “There must be about 200 self-sown plants now, which look

When the sun sets, the low-an­gled sun­shine lights up their stems

so beau­ti­ful en masse. They’re buzzing with bees and but­ter­flies in sum­mer.” To keep the look nat­u­ral­is­tic but easy to main­tain, the wind­ing paths are made from Bree­don self-bind­ing gravel. “Th­ese are edged with me­tal to keep their out­line crisp as it weaves among the beds and borders,” says Kirsty. “In gen­eral, prairie gar­dens can be quite low main­te­nance com­pared to other gar­den styles. For in­stance, we didn’t wa­ter any­thing dur­ing last sum­mer’s drought and most of the plants man­aged per­fectly well. There’s a lot to be said for let­ting plants fend for them­selves a bit, rather than cos­set­ing them too much. “When we cre­ated the gar­den we dug in tonnes of green waste com­post to im­prove our clay soil, and we layer on a thick mulch each year so the weeds aren’t re­ally all that trou­ble­some. I spend about one day a week do­ing spot weed­ing.” Kirsty likes to leave the spent flow­ers and seed­heads in­tact over win­ter to en­joy their sculp­tural forms. “It’s good to see the bones of the gar­den emerge at the end of the sea­son,” she says. “I gen­er­ally wait un­til Fe­bru­ary to cut them all back, which takes about a week.” Kirsty’s re­laxed and colour­ful prairie gar­den is neigh­boured by more for­mal plant­ings. “It’s all part of a 75-acre small­hold­ing where we keep a few Here­ford and An­gus cat­tle,” she ex­plains. “I ac­tu­ally gave some of the gar­den back for graz­ing! It was an area laid to lawn where we spent so much time mow­ing that it made more sense to give it back to the cows to graze in­stead.” Judg­ing from her clever plant­ing schemes it’s no sur­prise that Kirsty is a qual­i­fied sub­tle sHADes (clock­wise from above) Per­ovskia ‘Blue Spire’ and be­yond Achil­lea fil­ipen­dulina ‘Cloth of Gold’; Veron­i­cas­trum vir­ginicum ‘Al­bum’; An­thriscus sylvestris in sil­hou­ette, with Stipa gi­gan­tea; Echi­nacea pur­purea; fox­glove seed­heads stand well among the au­tumn flow­ers; self-sown Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis IN­set Cala­m­a­grostis acu­ti­flora ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’

gar­den de­signer, hav­ing stud­ied at night school for her BTEC diploma. “I did it with a view to know­ing what I was do­ing when I cre­ated the gar­den,” she says. “I think it has re­ally paid off in terms of the lay­out and plants I’ve used. My in­spi­ra­tion came from the de­signs of Arne May­nard and Dan Pear­son – I love his nat­u­ral­is­tic style. And ob­vi­ously, Piet Ou­dolf. I par­tic­u­larly like Piet’s com­bi­na­tion of wilder­ness con­tained by for­mal box and yew squares, which I’ve in­cluded else­where in the gar­den. “The more re­laxed, prairie part of the gar­den is bril­liant for wildlife though,” says Kirsty. “We try not to spray and leave any aphids for the birds to eat. We have nest­ing house­martins, and vis­its from but­ter­flies and tiny lit­tle wrens who love the fen­nel seeds. Plus we have some res­i­dent guinea pigs who love to spend sunny days out­side in their pen, nib­bling the lawn!”

We spent so much time mow­ing we gave the land back to the cows!

COUN­TRY VIEW Acid-green fen­nel flow­ers, pink se­dum, golden rud­beck­ias, pur­ple Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis, thistly eryn­giums and Stipa gi­gan­tea jos­tle out­side the sit­ting room win­dow. In the fore­ground are spent but­ton-like flow­ers of sanguisorba. Sculp­tural seed­heads will dom­i­nate the late au­tumn and win­ter show

SEA OF COLOUR (clock­wise from above left) Pink echi­nacea and per­ovskia; it’s easy to cy­cle on the self-bind­ing gravel paths; cro­cos­mia seed­heads, blowsy pink se­dum, Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis and Stipa gi­gan­tea; stipa with Foenicu­lum vul­gare; a small tor­toise­shell but­ter­fly; a cob­ble cir­cle flanked by Eryn­gium gi­gan­teum (Miss Will­mott’s ghost) and Stipa gi­gan­tea

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