• Sarah Kay

Naturalistic Planting Designs

As the double threats of climate change and loss of biodiversity become more apparent, the trend for naturalistic planting design becomes more than a fashion and moves to an essential part of creating a sustainable and biodiverse space which attracts nature and encourages the gardener to do less not more to create a more self sustaining environment.



The 'New Perennial' pioneers including Piet Oudoulf take inspiration from the North American prairies with swathes of ornamental grasses interspersed with long season perennials whose Winter forms provide food and shelter for birds and insects.


Whilst most London gardens don't have the space to evoke this exact style there are elements which can be taken. Most gardens tend to have shady areas and need to look good all year round and this also dictates plant choice.


These are my 5 key elements I include when designing Naturalistic Planting


  1. Trees



All gardens, regardless of size need variation of height and I think the inclusion of trees, particularly multi stem trees with their beautiful forms and privacy giving structure, is essential to create a naturalistic feeling. Underplant with Spring bulbs and hard working ground cover perennials, grasses and ferns.


2. Evergreen Structure

Although the majority of a naturalistic planting scheme will be made up with grasses and herbaceous perennials, evergreens play an really important part in providing structure and solidity. Taxus baccata topiary, Hebe mounds and Pittosporum balls all work well as a contrasting forms to the soft and wispy surrounding planting.



3. Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses are the obvious stars of the planting, working best planted in as large groups as space allows. Stipa tenuiissma, Miscanthus and Calamagrostis are the usual favourites but consider light, soil and evergreen aspects of grasses including Amenanthele lessionana, Luzula nivea,and Carex. Interspersing bulbs including Alliums and Tulip early in the season and perennials including Salvias, Hylotelephiums, Achillea, Echinops, Verbena, Echinachea and Helenium later in the season provides swathes or splashes of colour, dependant on how your space allows them to be planted.



4. Shade loving plants

Most gardens will have some element of shade so choose plants which enjoy a shady aspect. Ferns, Luzua nivea, Hellebores and Astrantia all enjoy shade a make for a naturalistic woodland look when incorporated with woodland bulbs such as Fritillaria and Galanthus.



5. Naturalising the lawn

Although not strictly part of the planting, allowing areas of your lawn to grow or naturalising bulbs in a lawn brings colour and pollinators into your garden and creates a link with the larger areas of plants.


I hope these tips help you to create a garden which not only looks good but helps our environment.


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