Mixing it up for seasons of colour

Mixing it up for seasons of colour

Liz Newport of Buzy Lizzie Garden Design is a great advocate of seed mixes for informal planting schemes

A looser style of planting is very fashionable at present – think traditional cottage gardens or perhaps the modern perennial profusion of Dutch garden designer, Piet Oudolf. Many years ago, a client described my planting style for her garden as ‘wanton and blousy’ so I am quite pleased to be on trend!

One of the most cost-effective ways of creating such a planting scheme on a large scale is to use seed mixes. This isn’t just about combining lots of different plants in one scheme. A good mix should also include succession flowering so that you have interest from May through to the first frosts.

There are many companies offering seed mixes but I’ve always been particularly fond of Pictorial Meadows. The company was conceived by Professor Nigel Dunnett when he was a lecturer in the Landscape Institute of Sheffield University and it is renowned for its work in the London 2012 Olympic Park and, more recently, several Greening Grey Britain projects.

Annual mixes, sown every year, are the most popular type. They are available in a range of colour themes and for a variety of soils and aspects but a majority prefer largely sunny, open and well-drained situations. I worked with a friend, Ali, on aspects of her Penrith garden and, as she was a volunteer Games Maker in London for 2012, she loves having her own little bit of the Olympic Park at home. Mind you, she didn’t underestimate the work involved in good soil preparation before initial planting and, as she is using annual mixes, there’s a need to dig the ground over thoroughly every year.

Perennial mixes are also available and there are choices of mixes for different soils and situations. In Cumbria, these are usually sown in the spring, as the ground begins to warm, and they can take a couple of years to get established. During that time, you might need to remove a few of the more “thuggish” weeds such as dandelions and dock leaves. I recommend pulling these out carefully and then filling the gaps with bulbs. It is worth this effort as, once established, perennial mixes repeat their show every year.

A final “mix” option is wildflower turf for instant impact. It costs more but might be worth the investment if you want to establish your planting as quickly as possible and start with relatively established plants.

One final suggestion for smaller plots: ask a garden designer about a more managed mix of perennials. Seed mixes are ideal for larger spaces but, if yours is a smaller garden, a better option might be to create a mix of perennials to give the same benefits of succession planting but designed specifically for your situation and your colour scheme.