Meadow Planting Scheme for Dry Steppe Growing Conditions

This series of posts has been quite theoretical up till now so perhaps it is time to look at an example of a perennial meadow planting scheme in order to understand just how plants are selected and used.

The scheme I am going to illustrate was created for a wide open situation amidst farmland in the north of the Netherlands, close to the German border. To summarise the growing conditions – cold and wet in winter, moist climate in summer and fertile, well drained soil. The setting and growing conditions suggested a large scale open scheme in which the plants would be free to be tossed by the winds that tear across this landscape.

A prairie style scheme could easily work in this setting, but I chose, on this occasion, to emulate a steppe style (typical of drier siturations) with plants well spaced apart and the intervening spaces covered by a deep gravel mulch. The idea immediately suggested three bold perennials – stipa grass, echinaceas and Rudbeckia maxima – all of which need fertile soil, adequate moisture and an open position free from competition from neighboring plants.

Here is my planting recipe:

  • 1 x 3 Stipa gigantea
  • 2 x 3 Kniphofia ‘Tawny King’
  • 1 x 1 Eryngium yuccifolium
  • 2 x 1 Echinacea ‘Sundown’
  • 1 x 1 Rudbeckia maxima

The system is based upon plants per square meter/yard, for example, 1 x 3 represents one plant per three square meters/yards and 2 x 1 represents two plants per square.

The planting density is much lower than the more typical 8 plants per square that I generally use in order to accomodate the stipa grasses that will over a number of years form substantial clumps and the open growing conditions demanded by the other perennials used.

The five plants used in this scheme are termed my theme plants and together determine the overall look of the meadow. They flower over a very long period and remain effective with their dead stems and seed heads long into winter.

When designing meadows I use two groups of plants: the theme plants and what I term the complementary plants. This second group is very important for a variety of reasons including extending the season of interest of a meadow beyond that covered by the theme plants alone. The obvious example of this are spring flowering bulbs that bring colour to the meadow long before the cone flowers, red hot pokers and rudbeckias start flowering.

Perennial meadow with Rudbeckia maxim and Echinacea 'Sundown'
This meadow is less than a year old and as yet the stipa grasses have yet to make an impact. This is not unusual with many ornamental grasses which can take two years and sometimes longer to reach their full potential.

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