Small Landscapes

The sensitive gardener will observe that there are many more stages in the life of a perennial that are deserving of study and appreciation than simply the flowers – buds, unfurling leaves, seedheads, autumn foliage, winter’s skeletal remains…

—Piet Oudolf with Noel Kingsbury
Designing With Plants

A prairie garden can be the entry garden, surround a favorite piece of art in the garden, or share a spot with favorite traditional shrubs and flowers. Choosing plants which have the same cultural requirements of soil and water is essential.

To achieve a design that melds with your neighbor’s cultivated look, try designing around structure rather than color. A perennial plant has a unique form, from its emergence in spring to its seed heads in winter. The flower heads can be separated into categories of spires, globes, plumes, umbels, daisies and screens and the seed heads often have the same architecture.

Small Garden

In this spring picture, you see the pleasing mix with the daisy forms of Engelmann’s Daisy and Narrow-leaf Coneflowers punctuated by the spires of penstemon. Early summer bloom is just beginning to show with the umbels of the butterfly milkweed. As the penstemon fades, gayfeather, visible now only as foliage, will provide new spikes of bloom. A prairie garden is not static; new forms and colors surprise and enchant every few weeks.

Piet Oudolf in his book Designing With Plants advises that a good planting should have enough variety of shape to look good viewed in black and white. Use color as the secondary dimension to add mood to your garden.

In bloom:

Tradescantia ohioensis, Shortstem spiderwort (lavender)
Oenothera macrocarpa, Missouri evening primrose (yellow)
Penstemon digitalis, Smooth penstemon
Aesclepias tuberosa, Butterfly milkweed