It is now three years since I planted nine separate perennial meadows to illustrate my eBooks and they are looking fantastic. In fact they looked good in the first year, but now we can begin to see just how successful they are going to be in the long term.
I have twenty five years of study and experience of perennial plantings to call upon, but as you will read in various of my blog posts I can often be taken by surprise. Plants behave differently in every situation they find themselves in and we must adapt our expectations and methods accordingly. Nevertheless, the more we know and the more time we take to eliminate basic errors the more likely we are to realise our aspirations.
Site preparation is boring but so essential. As gardeners we are all too eager to get the plants into the ground, but unless it is free of perennial weeds, correctly worked and landscaped to facilitate drainage, then the scheme will never be a success. Weeds, both annual and perennial compete with our new plants and any steps we must take to remove them after planting leads to damage both to the new plants and the soil structure. Far better to start off with a clean slate so to speak. In the general maintenance of a garden weedkillers are not necessary, but when clearing a site for a new perennial planting scheme I do feel that a once and maybe a follow up application of a glyphosate based systemic weedkiller is justifiable.
My second strategy is the use of a mulch layer. Few contractors use these, possibly because they are expensive and a client will rather spend money on plants and other garden features rather than wood chips or gravel. But the proof of the pudding ……
In the pictures that follow you will see that we covered the planting areas with a deep layer of lava. This fine granular mulch is some 7 cm. deep (2 1/2 inches) which is sufficient to prevent the annual weeds from germinating. When planting the small pot-grown plants were only half buried in the soil to allow space for the mulch layer. This material is fast draining, but effective in preventing evaporation and so enables the young plants to establish themselves without the need for regular watering.
Weeds will of course appear in any planting area, but with good preparation these should be easy to control. During the annual tidy-up of these borders in late winter we found that most were to be found nestling around the necks of the clumps of perennials and needed to be carefully pulled out. However, very few weeds appeared elsewhere.
Perhaps the most difficult part of designing successful mixed planting schemes is putting plants together that do not out-compete one another by either spreading or seeding into their neighbours’ territory. When successful, the plants should grow together to make a closed mass of vegetation that is self supporting. As you will see below, none of the perennials have been staked and yet all are standing sturdily upright in an open and quite windy situation.