Melancholy in Early Winter

Perennial Meadow Amsterdam

Winter has started; it is warm and wet, calm and mellow, but with a hint of melancholy.

Were the sun to shine the garden would sparkle, but when it doesn’t the line between order and chaos is finely drawn.

From now until the end of winter we tidy away anything that flops or hangs untidily, but otherwise leave things standing. With the arrival of crisp sunny weather in February the dried skeletons of dormant perennials will be cleared away or broken up to fall as a mulch around their crowns. Hopefully a dusting of frost or snow will appear to lift my spirits before then.


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Colours in the Autumn Garden

Perennial Meadow garden in AmsterdamColours are the spectacle in my autumn garden. They need sun to glow and when the wind blows the tall ornamental grasses start dancing to its tune.

Perennial Meadow garden in AmsterdamMuch of my planting plans are to do with building the picture up to the final curtain call in autumn with the summer flowering perennials simply holding my hand and leading me carefully forwards to the real show.

Perennial Meadow garden in AmsterdamAmsterdam has had a terrible gardening year with a dry and cold spring and summer, followed by a dry heat wave in mid summer and, most recently, heavy, relentless rain. Now it is autumn and everything is forgiven.

Perennial Meadow garden in AmsterdamWhen the sun shines and the late flowering perennials, ornamental grasses and the senescing shrubs combine their medley of warm tints to create a show that hides the ravages of a challenging gardening year.

Perennial Meadow garden in AmsterdamThe tulip bulbs are in the ground, the compost heap has been turned and the hedges trimmed; next year promises to be a lot better!

Perennial Meadow garden in Amsterdam

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Grass Hedges

Grass Hedges
In contrast to naturalistic mixed perennial plantings, I like to place blocks of a single species of an ornamental grass for bold architectural impact.

Planted in lines, tall grasses can make seasonal hedges and when the grass remains effective for most of the year they form part of the garden’s permanent planting design.

Grass HedgesIn my own garden hedges of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ are used both along boundaries as well as within the massed mixed plantings. Their impact is enhanced when other plants are lined up with them for added interest.

Grass Hedges

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Looking good after 6 years – one perennial meadow example – 2015

Perennial Meadows by Michael KIngSix years ago I planted eleven demonstration borders at Lianne’s Siergrassen; a nursery specialised in ornamental grasses, in the north of the Netherlands. I returned this month after a three year gap to see how they were faring and came away satisfied and also informed from what I had seen.

Lianne Pot is the perfect client who has maintained the borders well and only made minor changes to the various schemes over the six years. Perennial meadow schemes are developed as simplified plant communities in the hope that they will develop as a whole and evolve over time. Looking at the schemes together we could see how a few plants had die out over the years and others arrived spontaneously from nearby plantings. Lianne has managed these changes sensitively, but only in a couple of borders felt the need to introduce or replace individual plants within the mix.

The first of my borders you encounter when entering the extensive “Prairie Garden” designed by Lianne Pot is the lowest growing of all and could easily function as part of the design in a small domestic garden; it has an area of 35 square meters.

Theme plants form the backbone of all my perennial meadow schemes and in this case included:-

Saponaria x lempergii

Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’

Stachys officinalis ‘Rosea’

Sporobolus heterolepis

Gaura lindheimeri

Complementary plants are introduced into these schemes in small numbers to bring variety and extend the scheme’s season of interest. In this case a few specimens of the grass Festuca mairei and in places along the edges of the border Sedum ‘Red Cauli’ were used, together with drifts of spring flowering bulbs which feature throughout the entire “Prairie Garden”.

Perennial Meadows by Michael KIng

Here is the border, the crescent on the left, being planted in June 2009.

And just three months later it was awash with the flower colours of Gaura and blue Salvias, but the grasses were hardly to be seen.

Perennial Meadows by Michael KIng

Festuca mairei grows quickly to make bold rounded mounds, but the other ornamental grass, Sporobolus heterolepis, is painfully slow to establish, and as you can see in the pictures took more than three years before it became fully effective in this scheme. The Gaura linheimeri was used in this scheme in the knowledge that it would probably die out within three years, but in that time compensate for the slow establishment time for the grasses. Surprisingly after 6 years a few plants are still alive and make a valuable contribution to the mature scheme – should these die out in a very harsh winter we would probably replace them as their long flowering season and airy habit contributes a great deal.

Perennial Meadows by Michael KIng

One year old and the Festuca grasses were dominant, but the sporobolus was only noticeable when in flower later in the summer.

Perennial Meadows by Michael KIng

Three years on (below) the smaller and larger growing grasses had knitted together to form a pleasingly undulating matrix and the setting for the Stachys both in flower and later with its distinctive seed heads.

Perennial Meadows by Michael KIng

This border today has matured and the one plant lost from the initial planting is the Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’. Perhaps we could introduce a few Salvia verticillata ‘Hannay’s Blue’ as a more robust replacement, but in principle the scheme hardly needs them now.

Perennial Meadows by Michael KIng

If you get the chance to visit Lianne’s Siergrassen in the north of the Netherlands another ten of my borders are there to study along with the rest of the “Prairie Garden” designed by Lianne Pot and other selected planting designers. And if that is not possible, this scheme, together with many others, is described in detail in my series of eBooks on Perennial Meadow gardening.

Lianne's Siergrassen

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Is Texture a Garden Theme?

Summer perennialsLike any good story the plot is revealed one step at a time; my garden is the same.

Different seasons have different themes as steadily the plants grow up and express themselves like actors in a drama.

Veronicastrum and umbellifersBy late summer I look forward to waving grasses and sheets of yellow blossom, in early summer the colour pallet is all blues, purples and crimsons, but now in July the forms and patterns of stems, leaves and flowers of varied hues mixes together to create a single image or theme I would term texture.

Helenium and grasses

In late summer ornamental grasses are clearly the theme, but in July grasses are only a small part of a much wider planting pallet. Colour harmonies are not important for me in this transition stage. A hard yellow next to a soft pink might annoy some well trained garden designer, but for me their clashing colours are interesting and a signal of what is yet to come.

The July Garden filled with texturesToday I will be gardening surrounded by a tapestry of textures,  tidying up any tangle and setting the stage for a late summer theme where rudbeckias, heleniums, asters and grasses will rise to a crescendo. I do hope there will still be time to sit and study these textures of summer before they fade into memory.

July Garden, Amsterdam


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