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Bracknell prairie - the plan


By AndrewR


My front garden faces due south and gets all the sun going. It was all grassed over when I came to ‘Devonia’ in 1984, but apart from one path, it is entirely planted now. There is a large central bed (approximately 200 square feet) which has ‘evolved’ over time, and has never had an overall plan

I work on a “no watering” principle so it was interesting this past summer to see how it coped. We had temperatures up to 32C and no rain for nine weeks. Most of it coped well, but the big tree peony died – despite copious watering it just couldn’t cope. So that left a big hole in the middle of the area. The tree on the left is an amelanchier. It has white flowers in spring, berries in August, and autumn colour – a good all-rounder. Except the flowers only last a week if the weather is hot and sunny, pigeons strip the berries within 48 hours, even before they have ripened, and you can never rely on autumn colour. The shrub on the right is callicarpa dichotoma. It too has good autumn colour – bright PINK leaves every year, regardless of the weather. But for the rest of the year, it just sits there and doesn’t contribute much. I decided the demise of the tree peony was a good excuse to replant the whole bed.

The far side of the bed contains grasses and asters, as well as a few other perennials to add earlier interest

Not only did these plants require no water, they positively basked in the conditions. With climate change making conditions like this summer more and more likely, this seemed the right approach to take.

Have you heard of Piet Oudolf? He is a Dutch garden designer who pioneered prairie style planting. Using his own garden as a testing ground for plants, setting up a nursery and breeding new plants as well, he has now come up with a tried and tested list that perform well, flower over a long period, need little maintenance, and are long-lived without causing problems. This is a video of his garden:

So this winter has been all about learning from his writings, compiling lists of possible plants to use (then eliminating two thirds of them so the planting doesn’t become too fussy), and looking for suppliers. There are the two books I have been chiefly using

By December, I had cleared much of the area to allow the tree surgeon access

He came just before Christmas and removed the amelanchier and callicarpa. Since then I have dug over the area, removing any remaining roots and weeds, and noting where bulbs are coming up

Now it’s a case of breaking open the piggy bank, ordering plants (lots), and get them in the ground when the soil warms up. We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll write a few more blogs so you can see if it’s working.

More blog posts by AndrewR

Previous post: A Nudist for Christmas

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I can't wait to see how it goes. Nothing like a blank canvas to get the plant catalogues arriving.

19 Jan, 2019


wow that is a definite revamp isn't it.
Westshores nursery in Lincolnshire [possibly at Winterton cant remember exactly but close to the Humber rather than Lincoln] is a specialist grass nursery and John and Gail Summerfield are very helpful and reasonably priced.

will look forward to how this progresses.

19 Jan, 2019


I like this and have put it on several categories as i think it is of interest to many.

19 Jan, 2019


Sbg - thanks for the pointer to a grass nursery

19 Jan, 2019


A good sized bed to revamp Andrew, I have long been a fan of Piet Oudolf and his prairie planting, I follow him on Instagram, but never had the space to indulge such a passion, you need space to make it look good...
Neil Lucas is my go to man for grasses, I have his book Designing with grasses 2011, found it very useful, has a decent website too!!
I will look forward to seeing how you go about this new border.....

19 Jan, 2019


Oudolf re planned the Scampston Hall garden in Yorkshire. it is a stunning garden. if you are in the Malton area then it is well worth a visit but it isn't open all the time so you'd need to check their website.

19 Jan, 2019


I shall look forward to seeing your updates such a shame you lost that gorgeous tree peony though. Thank you for the link very soft effective and colourful planting in it.

19 Jan, 2019


That's a very bold move - I would never have had the courage to be so radical - really looking forward to seeing the transformation!

19 Jan, 2019


Ahh that gorgeous peony but love this style of planting attempting it myself in my hot border, look forward to seeing your progress, will have a look at the video too

20 Jan, 2019


DD - Neil Lucas, is that Knoll Gardens?

Daylily - have you posted any pictures of your hot border?
I would like to see how you are getting on with this planting style

20 Jan, 2019


That is very interesting, Andrew. We have peonies in Sweden and it was very hot there all summer. I was hoping they might have survived because no-one watered them. The only thing is, the water table is very high so if their roots get down far enough they will be ok.
It was a beautiful Peony you lost.
I wonder how the grasses would cope with extreme cold in the winter. I also fine plants very difficult to getting Sweden, but maybe seeds would do.

20 Jan, 2019


Andrew Neil Lucas is Knoll gardens, have you been, not too far from you, as the crow flies!

20 Jan, 2019


Hi Andrew I will see if I can find a decent picture but won't be any where near as good as yours, it's not a very deep border I've got a couple of largish miscanthus, stipa Gigantea, kniphofia have been hit and miss, salvias, penstemon, alstroemeria Indian Summer, achilleas and needs rearranging a bit this year!! It's also sandyish topsoil we brought in so different from the rest of garden so seems to suit the grasses :-)

20 Jan, 2019


DD - I've added it to my list to visit this year. Went to Wiley yesterday. They have a new Winter Walk that looks stunning but you'd need seven acres to duplicate it!

20 Jan, 2019


Thanks for that, it's really given me food for thought.
The idea that with paved areas to walk & put chairs, I can gradually do away with the lawn type grass & plant more flowers, etc. & it looks that good is perfect for me!

23 Jan, 2019

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