Friday, June 13, 2014

Early June Plant Combination Ideas for a Prairie Garden

Despite the beauty and hardiness of native plants, they are still relative newcomers to the garden scene.  Consequently, there aren't very many "tried and true" combinations of native perennials (and/or annuals) that bloom concurrently for the best garden bed displays.

I've been trying to capture combinations that appeal to me when I see them, which is usually a rather serendipitous occurrence.  Here, for example, is a pairing that I found last week, at the Sedgwick County Extension Arboretum in Wichita....

The bluish-purple of the leadplant (Amorpha canescens) blossoms, with their orange anthers, really struck me when I found them in close proximity to the brilliant orange blooms of butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).  I believe this was an accidental planting - the butterfly milkweed had moved here after originally being planted about 20 feet away, but what a lucky accident!  The leadplant's spiky sprays of grayish, tiny leaved foliage make a nice counter to the rounded mound of the bright green butterfly milkweed, too.  Best of all, these two prairie natives require essentially identical conditions, so where one does well, the other one should too.

Nearby the leadplant-butterfly milkweed pairing in the Arboretum was Husker Red Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red') planted in front of bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum). 

While I would personally put the penstemon either in back of or beside the cranesbill, the echoes of purple between both plants and the overlapping bloom times, as well as contrasting foliage and plant shapes, made a pleasing combination to my eye.  One of the best things about this combination is that it will do well in part shade, which is rather rare among plants that do well on the prairie.  By the way, the bloody cranesbill is not native to North America, but it's been selected as one of the Great Plants of the Great Plains and there are others in the Geranium genus that are native here.

Some other plants blooming in the prairie right now that could be creatively combined for special garden displays:

Purple horsemint, aka lemon beebalm (Monarda citriodora), an annual that reseeds pleasantly.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), a well known, short-lived, garden perennial.

Catclaw Sensitive Briar (Mimosa quadrivalvis), a rather sprawling perennial with classic mimosa leaves and spectacular bright pink flowers.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.), which provide both a nice linear foliage and beautiful blue blooms.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriacus), Smooth Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii), and/or Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), 3 milkweeds of open grasslands that sport large pink pompoms of blossoms with incredibly sweet fragrance.  Shown in this photo is smooth milkweed growing naturally in a grassland; all 3 species look very similar in general appearance and all 3 are excellent monarch larval plants.  Being good larval plants means their foliage can get quite ratty by the end of summer so planting them amidst a "filler" like aster is probably a good idea.  All 3 will form open colonies.

Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata), also called wine cup, which brings a strong magenta blossom to the mix.  Its trailing stems can meander between other plants, but in the prairie they often seem to climb UP its neighbors to provide the plant with the sun it needs.  It's not a heavy or a smothering plant, so this can actually work quite well and look very attractive.

Echinaceas, the classic prairie coneflowers.  While Black-sampson (Echinacea angustifolia) is the native here in south central Kansas, there are many other Echinaceas available that will do well in prairie gardens, including Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Yellow Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa), which are both relatively easy to find in nurseries and garden centers.  Pictured here, of course, is yellow coneflower.  Echinaceas are a North American genus.

There are other native wildflowers that are blooming right now, but these are the main prairie forbs that are currently blooming in my yard and gardens.  What combinations would you put together?! 


ProfessorRoush said...

I let Asclepius self seed anywhere it wants to with sometimes interesting results. It looks good next to a taller catmint right now. And don't forget to use it next to shrubs. It grows next to a yellow-variegated leaf forsythia (I think the cultivar is 'Fiesta') and looks great there.

Don't have the spiderwort or that native Monarda here.

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

I like the purple with the orange and I'm always after purple poppy mallow. One of my milk weed planting may actually be big enough to bloom this year!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Prof, I'm hoping my Asclepias will pop up in different places, but so far it hasn't. One of these years it will. Both of your serendipitous plantings sound nice.

If I remember (and you're interested), I'll collect some seed from the Monarda and send it your way.

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, I've never tried to collect seed from purple poppy mallow, but I'll see what I can do, if you're interested.

Have you had any luck with the white prairie clover? It's not a stellar year for it in my Back 5, although I'm certainly not worried about it disappearing.

Casa Mariposa said...

I have a large swath of orange milkweed in my front garden mixed with nepeta, coreopsis, and salvia. But I also let it self seed and grow where ever it wants. It seems to look good everywhere! I pulled my wine cups years ago and continued to pull seedlings for years. It suffocated everything in its path. But one snuck up on me this year and I'm keeping a close eye on it.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Tammy, that's interesting about the winecups/purple poppy mallow. I'll have to keep a sharper eye on them. So far they've not been an issue for me. Perhaps the increased water that you get in your garden would account for the difference?