Planting flowers in or with grass is not a new idea. When I was Head Gardener at Myddelton House I was aware that Bowles often tried to recreate the look of a meadow with flowers in turf. Of course William Robinson started a trend for tough herbaceous plants growing in grass too and today prairie planting, with ever-changing, self-sustaining communities of grasses and flowers growing harmoniously is very popular. I am not sure I will plant a prairie border as such because I am not sure if I could ever ‘let go’ enough and would be constantly tinkering. But I am not averse to the look of the idea.
My formal bedding bed had to be a compromise this year – there was no way I was going to be able to produce enough small bedding plants. So I opted for a less formal look, totally out of keeping with the tiny box hedge that is currently submerged in a cloud of flowers and grass.
Essential to the planting was a tame grass and, by far my favourite annual grass is Agrostis nebulosa. This is a native to western Europe but, surprisingly, quite new in our gardens. It is sometimes called the ‘fibre optic’ grass because the flower heads, as they emerge from the leaves, are bundled into ever-expanding, very fine bundles. At this stage it is wonderful for picking, though the angled and brittle stems can make them short-jointed. But as it matures the flowerheads create a cloud of tiny seeds on diaphanous stalks. It can be sown direct but I always sow in heat and transplant the seedlings – though I will feel very short-changed if I do not get at least a few self sown seedlings!
To provide colour I grew and planted pink and white cosmos, pink statice, pink poker-like Limonium suworowii, blue didiscus and some tall pink and lavender antirrhinums. In the centre is a Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barabara’ though it has, over the months, been subsumed by the mass of growth. What has been interesting about the planting is how it has changed over the months.
It was most colourful six weeks ago, before the storms flattened a lot of it. The cosmos were affected worst and some had to be pulled out as they snapped off at the base. But the other plants just filled in the gaps. The statice attracts hoards of butterflies which, in turn, provide endless entertainment for the cat which hurls itself on, through and over the statice, often flattening it in the process.
The Limonium suworowii was charming but did not last long and the antirrhinums are past their best now. The didiscus is a lovely thing but always a bit straggly so has worked well in this scenario, sporadically popping up its delicate, lacy, soft blue flower heads.
Now my fingers are itching to start pulling it all up – the forget-me-nots are ready to plant and the tulips will be arriving soon! That’s the great thing about bedding: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but it is always time for something new.