The Prairie Borders - the story thus far

I have been quite a fan of  perenniel prairie planting styles for some time and for some time I had wondered if I could incorporate something of that style into my garden.  In my main borders I do have grasses and various plants that would fit that style, but they are more 'cottage gardeny' than prairie.  I always have a few projects that circulate in my head of things I would like to do, but finding the right space is not always possible.  Then I realised that the top right hand corner of the garden could be right for a prairie area.
So the work started in July 2011 with marking out the borders.  I glyphosated the areas I wanted to dig over.  This may not be approved of by all as a method, but I have found to my bitter experience that not doing this means an inheritance of lawn weeds that are just soul-destroying to defeat.  If only I had done this in my front garden rather than just digging up the lawn I might have had a happier relationship with it.
Then, when happy with the shapes, I dug over the borders.  This took remarkably less time than I thought it would.
I had some bark mulch left over from a previous project, so I mulched the beds.  Actually I didn't have enough mulch to do all the beds properly, but it was an attempt to try and keep the weeds down.
All the plants for these borders have been even grown from seed or are relocated from other parts of the garden.  This is the most cost effective way to fill such large beds and as I wanted a limited palate of plants it was straight forward to achieve.  
So, the greenhouse that had been full of Stipa Tenuissma, Echinops and Echinacea Pallida was emptied and the pots set out so commence planting.
The initial result is best described as underwhelming.  I sowed more stipa seeds though it was late in the season and I knew that I would not get sufficient germinated and garden-ready before winter really set in.  So I kept the seedlings in the greenhouse over the winter and planted out the next Spring.

Then I sowed another batch which were planted out several weeks later when they got to a good enough size.  I also planted some rudbeckia seedlings and relocated some verbascum self-sown plants into the borders. There are also some seed grown stipa gigantica and stipa calamogrostis which are yet to really start performing.
They are still not what I would call finished or perfect, but they are suddenly sufficiently pleasing for me to think that this project has been worthwhile.
I've also been quite pleased that the weeds have not been unmanageable in these borders, that had been a real worry.  I planted out about another 200 S.Tenuissima seedlings a couple of weeks ago and if the cats and the foxes stop digging them up I think that next year these borders will be spectacular.

I am particularly pleased with these borders as they have been a specific project, something that I thought about, planned out (yes I even drew a plan, almost unheard of for me) and set out to complete.  Not only that, they look like I hoped, in fact, better.  Now if I can just stop humming the theme from the Waltons when I am weeding them all will be well (because still I can never remember the theme from Little House on the Prairie).


  1. It's looking already and it will only get better. Looking forward to seeing how it develops in time. Worthwhile project indeed :)

  2. I'm full of admiration. I would never have the patience to grow all my own plants in that way. If you ever make it down to the sunny south, you must go to Sussex Prairies

    1. Thanks - yes I want to go to the Sussex Prairies - they look amazing

  3. Thanks for a really informative post Alison.
    As I mentioned on Twitter, a group of us are committed to growing a prairie at a community garden. It will grow opposite a new wildflower meadow which we got stuck into prepping last Saturday.

    So many bloggers show the end product and dont take the time to share their worries, budgets or even discuss what didnt work.
    For example, the prepping of your beds is interesting, we may now have to consider spraying the area before we begin. It seems a very sensible precaution.

    As we dont need an instant Ground Force style impact, growing from seed will save £100s.

    I wondered about quantities & spacings. You mentioned 200 S. tenuissima- Your grasses have filled out a great deal in just a year, you've already got your great swathe of moving grasses. Did you do similar amounts of echinacea and echinops too?

    Our community garden belongs to a homeless centre which is glass and stark white render, so the garden will take a lot of colour.

    Our plant wish list so far:
    Tall varieties of miscanthus sinesis- Ghana , Flamingo + silver spider
    s.gigantea + s.tenuissima

    I love your echinops, they tone beautifully with the stipa.
    Thanks again for the post- very timely! Any suggestions/ advice would be much appreciated. Esp seed suppliers.

    Also how long did pricking out/ potting on 200 stipa take!

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I think I've planted probably about 500+ stipa in these borders, but there have been losses, cats & foxes have been a problem. I planted far fewer of the echinops etc, I reckon probably 40 or so of each. They are are more dotted around, the grass is the main feature.

      It only took 2 or 3 hours to prick out the stipa seedlings, it's incredibly therapeutic, you just let your mind go & absorb yourself in it. In my day job I rarely see physical results from what I do all day which means I love seeing how many of something I've planted out or potted on.


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