Perennials are by their very nature loose and informal especially when combined into contemporary naturalistic planting schemes.
The traditional herbaceous border was created as a tableaux to be viewed from outside and was given structure by being given a framework of formal hedges and fronted with neatly mown lawn.
Perennial meadows as an example of today’s interest in naturalistic planting invite their visitors inside, amidst the plants, to become engulfed and enraptured by their loose, expansive nature.
Bringing structure to such informal arrangements of plants is of paramount importance in order to avoid the whole collapsing into a tangled mess. Simply by placing a few solid points of interest in their midst we can bring focus and direction to their design.
Ground patterns and the construction of walls and seating units is yet another means of imposing structure to larger schemes.
Repetition is the key to the creation of visually powerful perennial meadow planting schemes and these can be given structure by using plants of different form or height to contrast with those that surround them.
One approach I use often is to include into the design blocks or rows of a single species of perennial such as a river of persicaria or ornamental grasses.
Further, I have tried many shrubs and trees over the years to introduce such structural incidents into my plantings and the most useful have turned out to be slim pencil-shaped conifers. These plants are so out of vogue that their use becomes original and exciting; my current favourite is Irish juniper – Juniperus communis ‘Hibernica’.
It is often better to break up a perennial meadow into a series of separate beds or borders with contrasting schemes or types of plants. This not only allows you to enter into their midst it also facilitates easy access for maintenance.
This need for structure in a perennial meadow is just one of the practical points I cover in the final lesson of my new course for My Garden School entitled New Perennial Planting for Today’s Gardens. The new course goes live in January. It covers the principles covered in my series of eBooks which have been available to you for over a year now, but brings my thinking up to date and includes a host of new and exciting images. These online courses offer students the chance to share their thoughts and ideas with both their tutor and other students in the virtual classroom. Each week for a month, there is a small assignment to undertake which provides the basis for discussion. I must say that so far my course on ornamental grasses has proven to be highly stimulating for both me and, I believe, my students. Perhaps this winter is the time for you to plan your own new perennial meadow.