Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Photo: Scott Woodbury
Native Landscape Plans
Easy Landscape Plans
Here are a few design ideas for smaller scale plantings using native plants. If your growing conditions differ from those described here, please talk with a Grow Native! Nursery, garden center, or landscape designer about alternative native plants that will work for you.
Native landscaping isn’t just for the back yard! If you want to establish a formal native shade garden for your front yard or other area, this plan can help you. This Front Yard Formal article by Scott Woodbury from the spring 2019 issue of the Missouri Prairie Journal is a companion to this plan, and contains photos of many of the featured plants. Learn more about plants featured in this plan from this audio file from Scott, and learn more about the plants’ growth habits from this audio file from Scott. 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.
The Grow Native! Approach to Garden Design with Prairie Natives
There are many wildflowers, grasses, and sedges native to prairies of the lower Midwest suitable for native landscaping in sunny locations. Some of these natives may look somewhat “wild,” and others more “tame” or “tidy.” There are some native plants, like big bluestem grass and common milkweed, for example, that you may prefer in a naturalistic meadow plantings, and may not work well in a formal front yard. Others, such as butterfly milkweed, and prairie dropseed, are more compact and may be more desirable in designed beds. Truly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are several basic design tools that may help you achieve the look you want when landscaping with prairie 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.
- Diversify the layout. 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. Often, native plantings for sunny areas lack bold-textured foliage and may 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 giving structure to a landscape, 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)
- Consider posting a sign to inform passers-by that your project is indeed planned. You may wish to purchase one or more native garden/plantings signs offered by the Missouri Prairie Foundation and its Grow Native! program via its online Gift Shop