Repetition within a perennial meadow planting scheme

Setting Out A Perennial Planting Plan – Step By Step

These are the steps to follow when setting out a perennial meadow planting plan. Strange as it might seem, the way I place the plants on the ground is almost the reverse of how I put a planting plan together in the first place.

As you will know from earlier posts on this web site, I use three groups of plants when developing a planting plan: theme plants, complementary plants and feature plants.

Theme plants are the mainstay of the design and grow to form a stable plant community. They grow together to cover the ground, they flower in sequence and attempt to create something visually interesting for most of the year. To maximise their impact, the number of theme plants in any scheme is limited to just five sorts.

Complementary plants replace a small number of the theme plants in order to increase the variety of the planting. They will often serve to extend the flowering season of the scheme or maybe form a cluster here and there in a scheme to avoid the repetition of just five theme plants becoming boring.

Additionally, feature plants can appear as larger specimens in schemes to serve as focal points, such as a tree or large clump of a bold perennial plant. Such additions will often relate to the wider design of the garden and will be surrounded by the perennial meadow composed of the theme and complementary plants.

Planting a perennial meadow
Drifts of Molinia grasses being set out first as the feature plants within this scheme.

When it comes to planting up such schemes the steps are, not surprisingly, as follows:
• First place the feature plants in the places where they are needed. Maybe these will be plants that are repeated in other parts of the garden as part of its overall design. Often, they will be bold clumps of a single perennial species or, as shown above, drifts of a single species to bring structure into the scheme.

• Then I place the complementary plants in those spots in the perennial meadow area where they are needed. This might be by evenly spreading them across the entire area or, alternatively, in discrete clumps, drifts or in a few isolated spots.

• Only now will I start setting out the five theme plants in the scheme. How I do this will depend upon the vision I have for the scheme. I will start with the boldest and most dominant plants in the list. These might be planted singly or in groups depending upon the impact they need to have within the whole. Step by step the remaining plants are dropped into the open spaces still remaining in the border. Maybe the smallest plants will be used in large numbers to fill in between larger-growing neighbouring plants. Eventually no gaps will remain and the whole ground surface will be covered with the plants standing more or less at equal distances from one another.

I am often asked if plants should be spaced out so as to allow for them to grow. The simple answer is no. We are planting a community of plants that must grow into one another. In time some will grow larger than others and some of the smaller plants will disappear—exactly what happens in nature.

At this point, after standing back and confirming that we are happy with the spacing of the plants, we are ready to actually start planting.

Finally, if spring-flowering bulbs are part of the scheme these may be slipped in between the perennials if it is the right time of the year to do so. When planting a border in spring, I have often grown the bulbs I needed in pots throughout the previous autumn and winter in order to be able to add them just prior to their flowering. Alternatively, you will have to forego the bulb spectacle for the first year; adding these bulbs during the following autumn.

Step by step the plants are brought together to complete the initial planting plan. Now sit back and wait.

The Perennial Meadow trial garden one year later at Lianne’s Siergrassen, the Netherlands.

And here is a post about the same trial some five years later.