More and more people are becoming interested in converting their gardens to have a more natural look. Water consumption is obviously also an issue (and believe me, is going to get worse). The following is a step-by-step recipe for doing the plant layout of a grassland garden. This is a real life example with real names, but you can substitute with whatever you find more interesting.
Remember, there is no RIGHT and there is no WRONG. The birds, bees and butterflies will tell you if you had made good plant choices. All the plants used in this example are water wise and sun loving.
If you walk around in the veld in Gauteng, all the plants seem to be grasses. But on closer inspection, you will find many interesting plants between them. In fact, the non-grass species have a greater variety than the grasses. But in the veld the quantity of grasses far outnumber the other species.
Step 1: Allocate Plant Palette Percentages
In a garden, one wants species other than grasses to be more prominent, but without loosing the “look” of a grassland. What I find useful is to allocate percentages to each group and then base your selection on this allocation.
In the example below, I have allocated 40% of the plants to grasses, 30% perennials, 10% bulbs, 10% succulents and 10% small shrubs. This is purely based on experience and is not cast in stone. I have used this mix with great success.
Step 2: Decide Planting Density
The next parameter we must fix is the number of plants per m2. In Nature, it can vary tremendously. In my experience, one should not go too dense; otherwise, the plants will not develop naturally. (A dense planting gives an instant effect but you will regret it in six months time). Again based on experience, I have found that a density around 5 plants per m2 is close to the ideal. One must obviously consider the mature size of plants when you make this decision.
Step 3: Create Your Plant Palette
Now let us get practical and create a plant palette for a small grassland garden. Assume the area that we want to plant is 3 meter x 5 meter. At a planting density of 5, we will therefor require 75 plants. If we use the percentages already discussed then our plant list looks like the following:
40% grasses = 30 plants
30% perennials = 24 plants
10% bulbs = 8 plants (rounded off)
10% succulents = 8 plants (rounded off)
10% small shrubs = 8 plants (rounded off)
For the above, a possible plant palette could be the following:
#1 Aristida junciformis x 5. Evergreen. Plant at back or on sides
#2 Loudetia simplex x 5. Medium size. Very nice seeds
#3 Sporobolus stapfianus x 5. Small plant – plant in front. Group
#4 Kylinga alba x 5. Quite small. Very long flowering season.
#5 Melinis nerviglumis x 5. Flowers very nice. Medium-sized
#6 Andropogon eucomis x 5. Plant at back. Seed looks like snow flakes.
#7 Scabiosa columbaria x 5. Plant close to taller grass for support. Attract butterflies.
#8 Dianthus mooiensis x 5. Plant close to taller grass for support. Attract butterflies.
#9 Ocimum obovatum x 5. Plant amongst smaller grasses. Flowers are beautiful.
#10 Crossandra greenstockii x 3. Plant amongst smaller grasses. Orange flowers make it very prominent.
#11 Haplocarpa scaposa x 3. Flower stalks quite tall and conspicuous. Often visited by beetles and honey bees.
#12 Geigeria burkei x 3. Fairly small with fine leaves. A good companion plant that brings variety.
#13 Eucomis autumnalis x 2. Plant amongst small to medium grasses. Feature plant that is typical of the Grasslands.
#14 Gladiolus dalenii x 3. Flowers early autumn when not much else is in flower. Many colour variations. Attract birds.
#15 Hypoxis hemerocallidea x 3. Leaves very conspicuous and unusual. Flowers are visited by bees and other pollinators.
#16 Aloe greatheadii x 2. Very common in the Grasslands. Attract birds and honey bees.
#17 Aloe cooperi x 2. Plant amongst taller grasses. Attract birds.
#18 Delosperma cooperii x 2. Compact groundcover. If you want one that spreads use D. lydenbergenis. Attract a variety of polinators.
#19 Stapelia gigantea x 2. Very large and unusual flowers. Attract a variety of polinators.
#20 Khadia acutipetala x 2. Shrub-like vygie. Very popular as a garden plant.
#21 Myrsine africana x 2. Sun or semi-shade. Very slow growing. Attract birds
#22 Trichodesma physaloides x 2. Flowers very early in spring. Very unusual and rare.
#23 Mundulea sericea x 2. Plant at the back. Can reach 3 m. Full sun. Attract birds and butterflies.
#24 Barleria pretoriensis x 2. Blue flowers very distinct and abundant.
When just planted up, your grassland garden might look like the following:
As already mentioned, the planting looks a bit sparse. Remember most of these plants are in 2 lt (or 3lt) bags and far from mature. One could cover the area with organic mulch that will prevent erosion and weed germination and your grassland garden will immediately have a more “natural” feel to it. The plants should be mature in 6 to 10 months.
In order to assist with your planting, the plants have been numbered in the list above and the positions indicated in the plan below (not exactly to scale).
When fully grown your garden might look like this:
Well, there you have my version of a small grassland garden, but it is certainly not the only version.
You may feel that I have used too many species. Reduce them, but keep the number of plants to 75 – 80. Or if you do not want to include small shrubs, remove them but then increase the number of, say, perennials.
These are also not the only species that one can use. What is important is the correct mix of plants to give the “feel” that you are after. I want to reiterate: there is no RIGHT and there is no WRONG.
Use the Indigenous Plant Palette Selector to find substitutions for my plant palette, or to to create your own.