WRITTEN IN COLLABORATION BY ELISE RALSTON & DANÉE MARIE LAMBOURNE
As landscape design has evolved, many design styles have emerged to reflect the themes and flair of their time. One in particular that has drawn a lot of attention is the New Perennial garden. Emerging from the Dutch Wave and the New American Garden, the naturalistic planting approach focuses on the cross-pollination of species and embraces the beauty of a garden’s life cycle throughout the seasons.
The new perennialism philosophy evoked a new way of thinking about gardens, making it not only a style but an entire movement. This movement was led by design experts Hank Gerritsen and Adam Woodruff, and made hugely popular by Piet Odulf and Noel Kinsbury; the influence behind world renowned gardens such as the High Line in New York City and the Lurie Garden in Chicago.
In the studio at EDEN Projects, you’ll find our style boards overflowing with images and portfolios brimming with new perennial tapestry. Our creative director and founder, Danée has a deep appreciation for new perennialism; fascinated by the philosophy, captured by the teaming life amongst the mass plantings of meadow-like cultivars, mesmerized by its drama.
The naturalistic expression of billowing grasses and pollinator vignettes create the ultimate dreamscape… a place for the hands and mind to wander, for contemplation, senses and memories to revisit. Not to mention the many benefits to the native ecosystem and to us as homeowners and land stewards.
While we could go on and on about our love for New Perennial gardens we thought it best to outline both the benefits and the realities of new perennialism, as well as an expert guide to incorporate this planting curation in your garden. Our hope is to inspire you to embrace the beauty of nature and the unrefined landscape in your very own backyard and beyond.
Due to the organic nature of new perennial gardens, it is no surprise that this planting approach increases the ecological value of a space. By cultivating natural gardens it aims to create a similar effect as that of our native landscape, by operating in symbiosis with nature and following the rhythm of the natural environment.
The naturalistic essence of new perennialism attracts pollinators, creates food and habitat for wildlife, increases biodiversity, while working to absorb storm water and repair the natural water cycle; all things that make for a happier and healthier environment.
Link to Nature
Due to the abundance of design styles and trends, it’s easy to get caught up in the aesthetics of landscape design and forget what it truly is at its core: nature. New perennialism bridges the gap between aesthetic architecture and the natural landscape by designing in such a way that allows the plants to speak for the design itself.
The new perennial philosophy leans into intuitive and natural gardening by celebrating nature and finding the balance between freedom and control.
Naturalistic or Unruly?
Although the focus of new perennialism is about embracing the natural beauty of nature, critics of the style may argue it can cause gardens to look messy or neglected. This may be due to the fact that perennials have the tendency to overgrow their boundaries, re-seed and spread throughout a garden over time.
Although the style isn’t necessarily clean cut and tidy, by following an evident pattern, and flow with monoculture drifts and carefully selecting plants based on their size and form, a new perennial garden can achieve a relaxed and naturalistic look without becoming unruly.
Many new perennial plantings naturalize in such a way that they require less water each year. A carefully planned curation can be planted in such a way that the deer won’t pass through the feltes, and scented, and sharp grass cultivars to get to the more tender species. These passive benefits are just a few.
Maintenance and Upkeep
As we have discussed, it’s easy to let perennials run wild and take over a space. Therefore a new perennial garden, as with many gardens, still requires some maintenance and attention in order to preserve its intended look and shape.
Keeping up with seasonal pruning for those species like Nepeta (catmint) that push spray of new growth and flower 3 times a year if you want it, as well as semi-annually transplanting or replacing species that are thriving a little more than you’d hoped, or a little less. Despite the seasonal upkeep, new perennialism is all about finding beauty in the pure and in the wild when it comes to plantings.
Rooted in embracing the magic of a plant’s life cycle while cultivating interest throughout the seasons. Adopting this approach and stepping away from perfectly manicured lawns and clipped shrubs, lessens the need for gas-run equipment, abundance of water and the maintenance associated with it.
Rather, a new perennial garden focuses solely on the plants, in all their glory.
How To Grow Your Own Perennial Garden
When designing a new perennial garden, it may be overwhelming to know where to start. In terms of structure, the movement advocates for a sense of naturalistic flow, with a focus on year-round shape and form.
The theme is one made up of various grasses and pollinators, planted in drifts and masses, with very little open space between them.
The style is often referred to as “painterly” as it incorporates monoculture clumps as opposed to single plantings, creating swads of colour and textures across a landscape.
New perennial gardens often feature an array of plantings, from billowing grasses to dreamy pollinators. With such a wide selection, it can be hard to decide what to plant in order to achieve a new perennial landscape that is tailored to you.
When developing a planting palette, integrating a range of textures and form, as well as narrowing in on a colour scheme is key to striking the right balance between contrast and complementary.
And when assembling plants for your garden, creating a rhythm within the landscape is just as important as it is when composing music. Plants allow us to set the tone, and choosing varieties that will allow a garden to effortlessly extend itself throughout the seasons is essential.
Consider plants like Miscanthus and Eutrochium purpureum for the autumn and winter seasons, a flowering variety such as Thalictrum aquilegifolium to carry through late spring into end of summer, and bulb plantings, such as Narcissus ‘February Gold’ to balance the starkness in the early spring.
Plantings that fit your environment while maximizing year-round interest are fundamental to creating a great new perennial garden.
Whether you’re an experienced gardener or looking for a place to start, we hope the new perennial garden inspires you to appreciate the natural beauty that is in your own landscape. We encourage you to find value in the blooming, the calm, the wild, and the dynamics of the natural world.
Letting go of perfection might just be the encouragement you need to pick up a trowel and cultivate a garden for the good of yourself and your environment. If you need a hand planning, reach out to us and we’ll support in any way we can.
Danée Marie Lambourne, Founder and Creative Director of EDEN Projects and Inventing Eden Landscape, is an avid New Perennial “fanatic”. You can find her speaking on the topic through the year to audiences like local climate action groups or NFP park and land conservation advocacy collectives.