Lewis and Clark were impressed when they saw the prairies that were full of grasses (native to North America) that once covered 600 miles of plains from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rockies (Druse 2004). As well as the grasses there were native wild flowers that thrived in full sun in hot dry summers and also shrugged off cold winters. All had deep tap roots, or matted root systems that allowed them to survive drought, fire, wind and trampling.
As modern gardeners seek to create xericapes (a fairly recent term to describe gardens that mimic the virtues and biodiversity of the natural prairies and highlight natives that grow with a minimum of water and create a natural effect), we are using more of these indigenous herbaceous plants. Prairie plantings are attractive because they have wonderful textures and interesting forms, stifle weeds and attract wild life. Grasses and native flowering plants are usually planted in blocks or ribbon -like swathes of one species, or species are alternated and repeated. Such plantings are usually dense, with plants growing close to each other and shading each others' roots. Thus they are difficult to navigate on foot unless paths are cut through them with a mower.
They are often planted some distance from the house, so that their massed forms show up as a gestalt with the individual specimens melding together. Non natives that don't require a lot of water such as Russian sage, reseeding annuals and daylilies are also frequently featured. Seed mixtures with instructions are available but gardeners should also consult books and magazines in local libraries before planting their own prairies.
This is Moya Andrews, and today we focused on prairie plantings.
See Druse, Ken THE NATURAL HABITAT GARDEN (Timber Press 2004)
Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)
Purple Coneflower ( Echinacea pallida)
Black-eyed Susan ( Rudbeckia hirta)
Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
Queen of the Prairie ( Filipendula rubra)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Bergamot ( Monarda fistulosa)
False indigo (Baptisia lactea)
Sunflowers ( Heliopsis helianthoides)
Yellow coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata)
Prairie clover ( Dalea purpurea)
Photo by Tony the Misfit