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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Early Summer Theme Plants – Roses and Hardy Geraniums

Rose archesIn a small garden you need to carefully choose a number of theme plants that you can use in sufficient quantities to have a bold impact and which, each in their turn, play a role in a sequence stretching from spring through summer, autumn and on into winter.

Geraniums and AlchemillaI have been exploring my ideas for theme plants in my perennial meadow garden in a series of earlier posts and will continue to point out the star performers as this year progresses.

King_150614_15275It is June and roses have to be considered. Over the years I have tried many, but steadily the bushes have tended to disappear from my borders while the climbers have stayed and seem to work well. Roses that tower above the perennials give height and seasonal spectacle. Ramblers that flower once in early summer are worth considering where there is room to grow them.

King_150614_15346Currently I only grow repeat flowering climbers which are admittedly a lot of work to keep looking tidy, but reward me with a spectacular start to summer and continue to delight with flushes of flower right on through to the start of winter. I grow them on pillars and arches which proved to be inadequate for supporting the more vigorous growing ramblers which in truth are my real favourites.

Pillar roseWhile geraniums, Alchemilla mollis and blue flowering mints fill in the ground layer, towering lupins, the similar looking Baptisias, and foxgloves all are capable of bringing spiky drama to early summer. Shortly they will be joined by the flower spikes of veronicas,  veronicastrums and many cool season grasses, but these will be the topics of my next blog posting as the next theme in my garden’s time line.



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Theme Plants

King_150514_15214Snowdrops, hellebores, daffodils and lots of tulips: these are the plants that flower in sequence to bring my gardens to life each spring. But now that Tulipa sprengeri is coming into flower the end of spring has been signalled and I must look forward to the next group of theme plants to take the show forward into summer.

Theme plants in my perennial meadows are the key plants that dominate the schemes in their season and carry the banner forward. Together they grow happily together to create a coherent block of vegetation that functions as one of the design elements in the garden’s planting design.

King_150514_15209At a larger scale within the context of the total garden landscape’s design, trees and shrubs can also play a leading role; functioning as theme plants in their peak seasons. In a small garden a single tree, such as a flowering cherry, might dominate when in flower, but on a larger scale we should not only use shrubs and trees as specimen plants, but rather like theme plants in a meadow planting. Three or more similar shrubs flowering at the same time will give any garden a strong visual impact and at the moment my collection of Viburnum shrubs dotted around the garden are all now coming into flower. In years to come when they have grown much larger this will be a moment to savour.

King_150514_15204Currently, a specimen of climbing wisteria is dominating one corner of my own garden and beyond  it a perennial meadow of yellow euphorbia flowers dotted with the pompons of ornamental onions. The other plants present are there to complement them as it is the Euphorbia pallustris and the Allium aflatunense that are the official theme plants in my plan.

King_150514_15180Another theme that is also developing in this garden and one which will last far longer than any flowers is the decision to introduce different shrubs with purple foliage here and there throughout the plantings. They pick up the colour of the purple leaved hazel tree growing in my neighbour’s garden, but are in general much smaller growing deciduous species and cultivars: Acer, Berberis, Cercis, Pittosporum and Viburnum.

King_150514_15190For summer it is easy to find worthy theme plants for garden planting schemes, but spring and autumn offer less in terms of plants that have strong enough characteristics to play a leading role. The ways to success are to leave room in schemes to plant enough of each theme plant in order for it to play its role effectively and at the same time to introduce complementary plants in smaller numbers to plug any gaps in your seasonal progression; for example, adding bulbs for spring and asters for autumn.

Now is the time to look for what is missing and start planting.

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