Mixed perennial planting

Dr Walter Korb, at the Bavarian Institute for Viniculture and Horticulture (Bayerische Landesanstalt fur Weinbau and Gartenbau at Veitshochheim), has begun to develop a simplified version of the Lebensbereich perennial style which is designed to be used by relatively inexperienced practitioners—‘Staudenmischpflanzung’ (Schonfeld 2002). The idea is that by having a plant list, with specified numbers of plants and planting distances, it is possible to create an attractive planting without involving a plan or a designer (and their attendant fees) to specify the location of each plant. Needless to say, the plant mixture needs to be carefully worked out, so that all taxa used are of equivalent competitiveness. Exact plant positions end up by being pretty much random. Discussing experimental work which involved assessing the growth and visual appearance of a number of plant selections and monocultures, Philipp Schonfeld, who has managed the work since 1994, describes how ‘the perennials must find their own place in the plant – community. In our (trial) areas we have seen that a strong dynamic develops, which still has not come to an equilibrium after eight years. The area covered by individual taxa is constantly changing. The short-lived species, which are included for a fast effect in the first year, soon disappear. The ground cover ones fight for a place, spread and form small intertwined areas’ (Schonfeld 2001a).

The ‘mixed planting’ idea would appear to have great potential and could prove very attractive to open space managers with limited budgets. However, there are a number of drawbacks that apply to any standardised mixture. One is that there is a point at which popularity becomes a cliche, the repetition of the same mixture many times over different geographical regions is something that ecological design has set itself against. The other is that, without the subtle grouping and intermingling of taxa or the creation of drifts (e. g. in Darrel Morrison’s work, see Chapter 5), a definite visual element is possibly lacking, particularly with regard to the more architectural plants.

A variety of planting combinations have been trialled at the Veitshochheim Institute, with one particular one being launched publicly in 2000 after trialling in a number of other trial gardens (see ‘Silbersommer’ in the section ‘Steppe planting’ below) (Schonfeld 2000). The ‘Silbersommer’ (silver summer) mixture is aimed at landscape architects, local government and other open space managers. Its trialling and launch has been carried out by the Local Government Planting Management Group (Arbeitskreis Pflanzungverwendung) under the wing of the German Perennial Growers Association (Bundes Deutscher Staudengartner).