5 ways this sloping prairie-style garden is planted for year-round interest

The owners of this beautiful hillside garden on the English/Welsh border keep it looking good all year with bold, prairie style planting

garden planted for year round interest
(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

This beautiful garden keeps looking good year round due to the owners' radical approach to gardening.

The upwardly sloping plot stretches out from Kate and Hitesh Patel’s 18th-century home on the English/Welsh border, and creates a beautiful vista that blends with woodlands, meadows and views of the Wye Valley towards Avonmouth.

gravel pathways weave their way between the layers of colourful plants in this sloping garden

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

So how did the couple create a long season of interest with garden ideas

The answer is prairie-style planting. This style of planting, popularised by the Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, uses combinations of ornamental grasses and flowering perennials that gradually build throughout the year to produce dazzling displays by midsummer.

Prairie style planting tolerates drought and gusty winds and is quick to establish and is one of the ways to plan a dry garden.

Kate and Hitesh planted their garden for year round interest, and it's packed with sloping garden ideas that are perfect for awkward sites, too.

rairie-style planting make the most of the upwardly sloping garden

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

1. Use of ornamental grasses

The fountain-like New Zealand Windgrass Anemanthele lessoniana

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

When the couple moved to the property it wasn't immediately obvious what they should do, or how to plan the garden. 

‘The site had been an uninspiring slope covered in patchy grass, and the soil is very thin, with pudding stone underneath. Over the years neighbors cut down stands of conifers, affording us occasional long views, but also stiffer winds that come up from the River Severn,’ explains Kate. 

feathery spikes of fountain grass Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

Kate and Hitesh sought the advice of horticulturalists Roger Grounds and Diana Grenfell. 

‘Roger is a grass specialist and we had already picked up some of his books at Kew. We lived for years in South-East Asia, so planting with grasses seems natural to us after having lived over there,’ Kate explains.

Together they drew up an ambitious prairie styles scheme using some 50 different types of grasses.

Perennials such as Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ and Liatris spicata and various grasses spill into each other

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

‘We chose warm season deciduous grasses for their functional and architectural qualities and association with the landscape, and the way they capture the light and dance en masse in the valley breeze,’ explains Kate.

The beauty of growing ornamental grasses and prairie planting includes their speed in becoming established, and dynamism. ‘The grasses and perennials give the garden a strong sense of energy and are easy to maintain,’ says Hitesh.

2. Planting perennials

The dark pink plumes of Liatris spicata, yellow daisy-like blooms of rudbeckia and nepeta

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

Along with the grasses, the couple have planted horizontal bands of perennials, such as rudbeckia, persicaria, echinacea and sedum, which complement surrounding shrubs and trees. 

‘When you’re planting perennials in blocks you have to look at the seed heads and pick ones that will look good for a long time – I don’t cut things down until I absolutely have to,’ says Kate.

Come winter, the borders are filled with attractive seed heads that look fabulous covered in frost. This is among the many choices for flower bed ideas.

A 70-metre hedge of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ is planted in a two foot trench

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

3. Bold plant combinations

A screen of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and the slightly smaller C. x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ provides a ‘pillar’ effect

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

The Patels have had the confidence to use certain plants in bold and unusual ways.

This includes the 200ft long miscanthus hedge that creates an elegant screen of purple plumes at the back of the plot. 

Also the Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ that provide a ‘pillar’ effect on a lower level.

Plantings of hydrangeas has been inspired by the river of shrubs at Trebah Gardens in Cornwall, and add color to the garden’s boundaries later in the summer.

Hydrangeas are used to add a strong backdrop of colour to the prairie planting

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

Dumpy pines and several bamboos, the latter grown in raised garden beds lined with damp-proof membrane, are among the species prized for their screening abilities.

Hydrangeas add a strong backdrop of colour

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

4. Creating a patio area

A vine-covered pergola, planted with actinidia , covers the sunken terrace

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

A sunny sunken patio close to the house provides a change in tempo, with vibrant magenta and orange-colored flowers contrasting with cream walls and blending with the pink paving. 

It is in this area that many of the Patels’ pots are put to good use displaying annuals, such as growing cosmos bipinnatus Sonata Series, which flowers later in the summer, along with dainty tactile grasses like Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ with its pink-tinged feathery spikes above beautiful green leaves.

The magenta pink blooms of Cosmos bipinnatus Sonata Series

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

Tall cannas stand out against the cream walls and dark-leaved heucheras work together to provide an effective edging.

‘We spend a lot of time out here eating or reading; it’s a wonderful place,’ explains Kate. 

fabulous flowers of Canna ‘Tropicana’ spring up by the house towards autumn

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

More pots have found their way to the terrace around their house, including two that are used to grow glorious roses – growing roses in pots is one of many rose garden ideas.

exuberantly-planted vegetable garden, in which globe artichokes and oat grass Stipa gigantea rise above raised beds

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

5. Combining crops and perennials in a vegetable garden

Layers of colourful planting

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

Kate and Hitesh’s productive vegetable garden ideas feature a series of raised beds filled with a variety of crops. These include architectural artichokes and arches of growing sweet peas.

The vegetable crops are mixed with flowering perennials and screened with statuesque nasturtiums that extend the exuberant feel of prairie planted beds to this part of the garden. Nasturtiums also act as good companion plants for many vegetable and fruit crops.

The area is screened by the bamboo Phyllostachys vivax, which provides shelter against the wind.

The sloping nature of the garden means the Patels get to enjoy a glorious sight from whichever angle they head after leaving the front door of their home, which was originally built as an apple store, and went on to serve at various times as two cottages, a pottery and even a commune.

‘We were lucky to find this house and garden, which, although awkward in terms of shape and being on a slope, is an interesting space,’ says Kate. ‘Our aim was to have a wonderful vista that would link our garden with the surrounding beauty of the landscape.’


This feature was created by H&G's sister brand, Period Living magazine

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Sue Bradley
Contributing Editor

Sue Bradley writes about gardening, food and wildlife, and the fascinating people who are passionate about these subjects, for a variety of magazines. She served a newspaper apprenticeship and worked on local and regional titles in the West Country before becoming a freelance features writer. She’s a member of the Garden Media Guild and the Guild of Food Writers.