There are a number of reasons people unaccustomed to native plants might object to their proposed use in a landscape planting. The most frequent objection stems from the perception that prairie flowers and grasses are messy and unruly. Truly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are several basic design tools you can use in urban and suburban settings to get excellent results with native plants.
The following practices apply to plantings where some degree of control is desired. That is, these design elements will help produce a garden that looks as though it was thoughtfully designed and planned as opposed to a naturalistic meadow or recreated prairie where plants grow more randomly.
- Use borders and paths to define the planting area.
While a field converted to a meadow or prairie certainly is appropriate in some cases, native gardens gain definition (and public acceptance) when they have definite shape, borders and walkways.
- Develop a focal point.
Good garden design starts with a focal point. Bold-textured plants, appropriate statuary or a structure such as a viewing arbor can serve as a focal point.
- Plant two to four species in broad sweeping masses or drifts that repeat throughout the planting area.
While large masses of a single species can be quite striking, it is generally easier to control weeds when you include a grass along with flowering plants. Native grasses develop dense fibrous roots that prevent weeds from getting established.
- Use a mixture of bold and fine textures.
Too many native plantings for sunny areas lack bold textured foliage and appear “messy” as a result. This is an easy mistake to make because most of the grasses and many of our flowering plants are fine textured. Good candidates for beefing up a design with bold foliage include: Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum), Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinacem), Indigos (Baptisia spp.), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum), Rose Mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpus), Shining Blue Star (Amsonia illustris), Pale Indian Plantain (Cacalia atriplicifolia)
- Post signs to tell passers-by that your project is indeed planned.
Post a planting plan and plant list, if possible.
Problems with deer and rabbits? Read how to defend your native garden in this article from the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of the Missouri Prairie Journal.