Recently I got acquainted online with Pat Hill, author of Design Your Natural Midwest Garden. Pat’s book had a big influence on me, and I think it is an important book for any gardener interested in designing with native plants. Pat is a garden writer and designer, and is active in promoting natural landscapes.
She was kind enough to invite me to visit her and her garden, and I did so just recently. Unfortunately, Judy was not able to come with me, and so all the photos for this post are mine, taken with my phone. I regret that they don’t really do justice to Pat’s garden, but bear with me.
This is a prairie garden, with native grasses and flowers mixed throughout, although with a far higher ratio of flowers to grasses than you would find in a wild prairie. My own garden, by contrast, is more of a cottage garden which includes many prairie wildflowers and a few grasses. Pat actually conducts annual burns in spring, which is necessary to sustain the health of prairies.
Pat generally has a more laissez-faire approach to her garden. She does some editing of self-sown volunteers, and has battled to remove some plants that are overly aggressive. On the other hand, to some extent she lets plants roam freely, with some beautiful results.
For instance, Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) has spread widely through her garden, and at this point in the season they make a gorgeous mass.
Similarly, she allowed Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis) to self-sow throughout her parkway, making a lovely meadow dotted with lavender flowers.
Pat also does not struggle with staking – if plants are going to lean, she lets them lean. In her garden, this looks right. However, I could not do this in my own garden, as my compulsive control tendencies would give me no peace.
While I was familiar with many of the plants in this garden, there were a few I had not seen before that intrigued me. For example, I really liked Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata) – it also goes by the more appealing and apt common name of Prairie Baby’s Breath). Flowering Spurge has an airy mass of tiny white flowers up to 4′ tall, which is great for filling in between larger, more substantial plants. It turns a beautiful red in autumn.
I was also intrigued by Prairie Dock (Silphium terabinthinaceum), a relative of Cup Plant. Like other Silphiums, Prairie Dock has tall stalks bearing yellow daisies. But it can also be grown as a foliage plant, as it has huge basal leaves that remind many of Elephant’s Ears (Colocasia).
Pat’s garden was about more than plants. There were many repurposed objects turned into garden art. Unfortunately I did not have the presence of mind to take pictures of these.
I was so glad to be able to visit this unique garden and gardener. Pat was great fun to talk to, extremely knowledgeable and with a great sense of humor. You may not be able to visit her garden yourself, but you can do the next best thing by reading Designing Your Natural Midwest Garden.