Actea simplex with Calamagrostis brachytricha

A New Grass Border Design

Inspiration for any planting plan is needed and in this case it came when I “accidentally” planted a seedling of the grass Calamagrostis brachytricha next to a patch of Actea simplex (Syn. Cimicifuga simplex) in an existing grass border, their flowers complementing one another perfectly.

When designing a perennial meadow I look for five appropriate plants that will grow together in the same situation. Scale, colour and form all play their part as does their time of flowering, but it is essential to try and match their competitive nature to avoid one of them taking over the scheme over time. Together these plants form the planting schemes theme.

With Actea and Calamagrostis flowering together to create a late summer spectacle, I have chosen to plant them in equal numbers and fairly close together. To contribute a long summer show, growing between the grass clumps and the rich purple bronze coloured foliage of the Actea, I have added the robust Geranium ‘Patricia’. For those of you who know Geranium psilostemon, ‘Patricia’ will look familiar, however, it is somewhat more compact and flowers over a much longer summer period.

Spring interest is generously supplied by Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, a ground covering plant that will fill in the space between the larger growing plants in this scheme. Its soft orange flowers are held high and appear over many many weeks in late spring and even on into early summer.

To round off the theme planting I had to include an aster. I have chosen a favourite of mine, Aster ‘Cotswold Gem’. This is a hybrid probably from a cross of Aster pyreneaus and A. amellus either of which would work equally well here. It has a long autumn flowering season and is not too tall growing.

Theme plants alone are not enough to make a successful perennial meadow. I often complement them with occasional clumps of a single plant or group of plants – these I call feature plants. Further, the schemes may need added interest when the theme plants are not contributing a lot. In this example, spring flowering bulbs are needed. And if you know me already, you will not be surprised by my choice of a Fosteriana tulip, ‘Orange Emperor’. For a start of season spectacle you need to plant tulip bulbs generously; so for the area shown below I would have used 100.

I would also add two forms of ornamental onions to this scheme. In one area of the scheme I would plant a few Allium ‘Globemaster’. It has enormous and dense purple flower heads in early summer and it will complement the flowering of the Geranium ‘Patricia’ perfectly. Its seed heads will remain a feature in this grass border for as long as I choose to let them remain standing. The second grouping will be of Nectaroscordum siculum (Syn. Allium siculum), a totally different ornamental onion to ‘Globemaster’ with thimble-like bells hanging in groups atop its tall arching stems.

The planting scheme for this grass border, following my method for designing perennial methods, gives the planting densities of each species in plants per square meter or yard. As shown above on a plan some 3 meters by 2 meters you will be able to see the random spacing I have elected to use in this example.

1 x1 Actea simplex ‘James Compton’

1 x 1 Calamagrostis brachytricha

1 x 1 Geranium ‘Patricia’

2 x 1 Aster ‘Cotswold Gem’

3 x 1 Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

Hopefully this suggestion for new grass border demonstrates the thinking process I follow when creating any perennial meadow planting scheme and will inspire you to create something similar for yourself.