Summer Prairie

Bring the style of the American prairie to your garden.

March 19, 2014

The Dutch designer and perennials enthusiast Piet Oudolf has led the way in adapting the plants and style of the American prairie to garden situations; his planting of New York’s High Line and Battery Park and the huge green roof of Chicago’s Millennium Park parking garage stand out. But this quartet of perennials shows that his ideas work on a small scale too, and three of these plants are native to the south and east.

Here, in full sun in relatively poor soil, the pale purple coneflower, Echinacea pallida (hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4) shows off its elegant heads of characteristically reflexed petals hanging from bold, dark cones. Intermingling towards the front is ‘Lavendelturm’ (Zone 4), the pale lavender form of culver’s root, Veronicastrum virginicum, with its small flowers packing short spikes on branched stems. Rising towards the back, in front of the willow and smoke bush, is the button eryngo, Eryngium yuccifolium (Zone 4), with its branched stems tipped with spherical white flower heads.


And all through, bringing an invaluable richness to the pastel coloring, is Agastache ‘Black Adder’ (Zone 6). This hybrid anise hyssop, developed from a native and a Chinese species by another well-known Dutch plantsman, Coen Jansen, transforms the combination with the sultry darkness of its spikes.

There are two reasons this combo works so well. First, the choice of plants: Not only do the colors work together, but all develop attractive seedheads and all thrive in the same conditions—and none of them run at the root.

The other factor is that they’re not planted in the traditional style of one clump of three or five plants of one variety set alongside a clump of another; instead, they’re planted in mingling drifts so that the colors blend one into another.

Photos: ©