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Entries in Michael King (4)


A Master Class in Designing with Ornamental Grasses, an eBook review 

Do you feel that you don’t know enough about ornamental grasses? Were you planning to enroll in a university extension course to learn more about them or, perhaps, buy a book on the subject? Now, from the comfort of your home and the convenience of your favorite electronic appliance, you can download Michael King’s two eBooks, Grasses Book One and Grasses Book Two. Together, these two volumes provide the reader with a master class in designing with ornamental grasses.

Ornamental grasses are essential to modern garden design and to the times in which we live. On one hand, their architectural forms make them ideal plants to enhance modern structures and on the other, they reflect our newfound respect for natural looking landscapes. Of late, we have come to echo this modernism and naturalist philosophy in both our private and public gardens.

Many home gardeners include grasses in the design of their flowerbeds; and public parks have used them as dominant themes in their landscaping. So significant an idiom have they become in contemporary gardening that many public spaces that incorporate them, such as The Lurie Gardens in Chicago and The High Line of New York City, have become internationally respected botanical icons.

To incorporate grasses into both private and public landscaping, fundamental information about both their nature and their potential is required. To plant them helter-skelter, the way some of us treat perennial flowers, will not do. Using grasses correctly and effectively requires prior knowledge. That, of course, is the reason to download Michael King’s two eBooks.

BOOK 1 introduces the reader to ornamental grasses, details their characteristics, and explains how they can be used in garden design. The reader will learn how their lack of bold color and their free flowing shapes help to create an illusion of naturalism in any garden. One discovers how the verticality of these plants provides a visual relief, as the eye of the garden visitor is drawn upwards rather than horizontally. Included, as well, is a survey of the best ornamental grasses for garden designs, classified by height.

BOOK 2 begins with technical information associated with growing, caring for, and sustaining ornamental grasses. The author also provides a frank overview of the drawbacks of using them and suggests how to deal with resulting negative issues. The volume then move on to a valuable demonstration on combining grasses with other plants and provides guidance on their use in designing, on integrating them into lawns, and in the creation of meadows.

With a calibrated precision rarely found in the lectures of the best educators, Michael King effectively teaches us about designing with ornamental grasses, in small, easy increments. The result is that at the end of these sumptuously illustrated two eBooks, one is as well informed on this subject, as any garden designer needs to be.

The eBooks are available online at


A Review of “Perennial Meadows”- a Six-Volume eBook Publication by Michael King

One of the most innovative evolutions in landscaping has been the introduction of the perennial meadow. This concept is one of several natural outgrowths of the debate about the role of large expanses of grass lawns. Now that water is recognized as a precious resource, the decorative, often useless lawn has been determined by some to be an anachronism; its need for frequent irrigation can no longer be justified. Furthermore, researchers are reporting that fertilizers, necessary to sustain lush, green lawns, are accumulating in our water tables and affecting the integrity of aquatic wildlife. And let us not forget that the liberal application of toxic herbicides, to keep lawns weed-free, is adversely affecting all living things, including humans.

Michael King proposes self-sustaining perennial meadows as an alternative to lawns and high maintenance flower beds. His six-eBook series, a beautifully written and lushly illustrated instructional, is the culmination of years of experimentation and work. The versatility of this publication lies in the fact that the author’s advice will work for readers who need to landscape a large field or meadow as well as those who garden in small urban yards.

This attractive gardening concept represents a revolutionary way of thinking about landscaping, because unlike other traditional garden treatments that focus on trees and shrubs, here flowers and color are emphasized. As a perennial garden lover, this form of innovative landscape design could not make me happier.

Gardeners who tend to perennials and who are concerned about the work that traditional flower beds require need not worry about the perennial meadow. The author explains that by selecting very specific plants and placing them in particular matrices, beautiful contemporary gardens, which do not require endless maintenance, may be created. In his words:

…to create colour filled spaces…… spectacular garden features that fit into modest-sized contemporary gardens and which do not require endless labour to keep them growing and looking good…….My perennial meadows are created with densely planted pot-grown plants that can be set into an infinitely flexible arrangement of beds and borders to cover anything from a small patch of soil in a city centre courtyard to a field in open countryside. They are attractive from the moment they are planted, becoming bolder and more complex as they establish and, when successful, will be attractive in all seasons thereafter….. The major part of this series of books consists of planting recipes that combine appropriate plants into effective naturalistic planting associations.

This six-book series is being offered to the public as eBooks, in the hope of reaching as wide an audience as possible. Readers should not feel intimidated by the phrase “six books”. In a hard copy, each of these eBooks would make up an easily digestible, yet all encompassing, chapter on one of the aspects associated with the creation of perennial meadow gardens. Here is the list of the six eBooks that are available in this series:-

  • 01 Introduction - Perennial Meadows
  • 02 Prairie Perennial Meadows
  • 03 Dry Steppe Perennial Meadows
  • 04 Open Perennial Meadows
  • 05 Wet Perennial Meadows
  • 06 Shady Perennial Meadows

There is wisdom in offering the publication as 6 separate eBooks. Professional gardeners will benefit from owning all six, while private gardeners need only purchase the introductory volume plus the one other that is applicable to their very specific growing condition.

Do not be misled by the title "Introduction"; it is nothing like the traditional introduction found at the beginning of a hard copy book. This volume is the first chapter of an education, for here is where the author explains in great detail what perennial meadows are all about and how they can be realized.

For each of the different kinds of garden situations, the author supplies a planting scheme along with a detailed list of appropriate plants. Those who are struggling to create beautiful and colorful gardens in challenging conditions will be pleased with the list of appropriate, attractive, and reliable perennials. This fountain of advice is enriched with a suggested planting matrix that enhances the appearance of the recommended plants.

In addition, a list of complementary plants is provided for each garden situation. Making up less than 25% of the plants used, they offer visual interest when viewing the garden up close and also serve to demarcate different “rooms” of the garden. Space allocated to such plants may also be used to plant unintended flowers that we fall in love with, on impulse.

One of the strengths of the author's perennial meadow gardens is the restricted use of plant pallets. This discipline of focusing on a theme creates a bold, visual impact while giving the impression of spaciousness, even in the small garden setting. Also included in Mr. King's guidelines is a suggestion to avoid using highly bred, fussy cultivars and to opt instead for tougher varieties that are virtually maintenance free. The author's love for flowers and color is reflected in the sumptuous photographs that illustrate each book. For this reviewer, the impact of the photos alone is enough to justify purchasing the series.

The electronic publishing of gardening books is a novel way of disseminating information. On behalf of the author, I am happy to help introduce this technological innovation by referring readers to his site where the first three volumes are now available. Books 04 and 05 will be ready at the end of March 2011 and book 06 will be offered a few weeks later. The price of each eBook is 4.99 Euros or about US$6.95

Followers of this blog are eligible for a 25% discount by using the discount code SAVE25 - interested readers may click on to


Theme Plants and Repetition in the New Look Perennial Border: a Guest Post by Michael King 

Garden designer, garden photographer, and published author Michael King offered to write a guest post for my blog and I was humbled by the honor. [As a big fan of his new blog, Perennial Meadows, I posted my recommendation for it on this site several weeks ago]. Book titles to Mr. King's credit include Gardening with Grasses [written with Piet Oudolf], Gardening with Tulips, and Perennial Garden Design. Mr. King’s next work will be published as an eBook.

New Look Perennial Plant Borders by Michael King

Looking back into my old collection of gardening books on the subject of planting design, the emphasis is very much on contrast. The classic books from the nineteen eighties and nineties written by English plant specialists such as Beth Chatto and Penelope Hobhouse talked endlessly about leaf shape, pattern and texture. After the garish colour schemes of the 60s and 70s the emphasis shifted to subtlety of form and combinations that drew our attention to it. Colour was of course the other topic that dominated these books and no one more than Rosemary Verey encouraged us to seek gently harmonies and carefully chosen contrasts - the pastel tinted borders awash with silver foliage became the new black long before black became "new" if you understand my meaning.

Looking back it is really quiet surprising how much has changed, especially when we hear repeatedly how backward garden design is in comparison to other areas of the creative arts and architecture in particular.

Focussing on planting design, the perennial plant border of today looks very different to its namesake of only a few years ago, but understanding why is not all that easy to grasp. Of course many of the plants that are popular today where not common twenty years ago, but there is far more happening in today's perennial planting schemes than this.

Bramdean House, UK, traditional mirror bordersTo understand the core underpinning contemporary planting designs one must understand that the emphasis now rests upon ideas rather than visual impact; colour borders are out and concept borders are in. Plants are not used simply for their physical attributes but because they in some way communicate an idea - the lost prairies of  our homeland, the vanishing European wildflower meadows, our childhood memories of foreign holidays or our concerns for nature, plants and the animals that we yearn to conserve.

Big ideas seem to need large scale borders to make their point. Looking at the landmark schemes of the last ten years or so, few have been made in small domestic scale gardens. Rather, today's gardening magazines are awash with horizon-filling schemes that have transformed the atmosphere of public parks and extensive private estates - naturalistic is the key word. Those of us with smaller gardens may well be inspired to embrace the new styles we admire but find it difficult to adapt the examples we encounter to the confines of our less generous plots. All too often I have seen such attempts fail and have myself been responsible for some wooly attempts, but once you understand the underlying principles it does become possible to adapt the new approach to even the smallest of garden spaces; however, some compromises along the way are inevitable.

Once one understands that the key is in creating an overall image rather than concentrating on finer detailing, progress becomes possible, but it does need the plant collector within us to show restraint. If one word characterises new, so-called, naturalistic perennial plantings it is repetition. The same plants are repeated throughout a planting scheme to both emphasise the idea that a plant represents, but also to strengthen its visual impact - a few red flowered clovers (Trifolium rubens) are pretty, but you may need fifty or more plants across a field of deschampsia grasses to communicate the idea of an open meadow. The corollary here is that the more you repeat a plant the less room remains available to introduce other different plants to the scheme.

Scampston Hall, UK, perennial meadow, design Piet Oudolf.

In developing my ideas for the perennial meadow it is this dilemma which has lead to the concept of theme plants. I restrict myself to a maximum of five, but do sometimes bend the rule by using different species or cultivars of the same genus. I have a grassy meadow in my own garden using low growing molinia grasses, but have ended up using three different cultivars to increase the diversity without diluting the idea. In another place, I have adjacent borders using the same planting scheme, but in one I use a tall growing pennisetum grass and in the other, another, more arching, cultivar. These theme plants are randomly planted at intervals across my schemes to create a matrix within which the other theme plants are spread to create a block of vegetation that as a whole represents my main idea.

If perennials have one weakness it is that they are dynamic and this, of course, is one of their strengths as well. In spring they start growing, later they flower and when this ceases they tend to slip into a decline. If carefully chosen we can extend the period our schemes look presentable by including plants that not only look good in flower but both before this starts and, later, when maybe they make seed heads. Inevitably perennials die back and this means as structural elements within a garden's design they are weak. This weakness was shared by the traditional herbaceous border, however, these were typically presented within a strong framework, often created by a wall or hedge as background. However, our new-look perennial borders with their need to draw us into the ideas they foster need to be entered and not presented as an abstract tableau set within a picture frame.

To overcome the weaknesses I see in perennials I follow a number of strategies to create year round structure. Firstly, I select some plants that stand up throughout the winter months such as miscanthus grasses and monardas. Secondly, I organise the meadow into a series of crisply defined beds separated by bold purposeful paths. And, finally, I create a framework of some sort; perhaps with shrubs, hedges or fencing that define the internal structure of the garden.

Such beds can be arranged into a labyrinth that leads visitors on a journey amidst the plants they contain and even in small gardens this can be made to work. Admittedly, these scaled down schemes lack the grandeur of the parkland meadows we seek to emulate, but when the plants are well chosen and grouped as I have described they are more than capable of presenting a clear idea that can exert a powerful influence upon the garden spaces they occupy.

Perennial meadow crossed by gravel paths.Click here to Read Michael King's blog Perennial Meadows.


"Perennial Meadows": a New Gardening Blog

Image used with the permission of Michael KingThe perennial meadow is a variation of the prairie or meadow garden. In some parts of North America, where growing conditions are favorable, the meadow garden is slowly becoming an alternative landscape treatment to the expansive, rolling lawn. Some brave urban dwellers have also begun experimenting with it in their front and back yards. Using attractive photos of his work, a new garden blogger, demonstrates how he tackles this innovative planting style in moist Zone 7.

Image used with the permission of Michael KingMichael King is a garden designer, author and garden photographer. Book titles to his credit include Gardening with Grasses [written with Piet Oudolf], Gardening with Tulips, and Perennial Garden Design. In addition to a joint honors degree in Botany and Microbiology, he trained as an accountant and in the1980’s won the plum position as head of finance and administration at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London, UK. For the last 20 years, Mr. King has been living in the Netherlands, specializing in perennials, ornamental grasses and tulips. His blog focuses on aesthetically planted meadows. The writing is delightful and he supplies more detailed information about the perennial meadow designing/ planting process than is readily available anywhere else online. Instead of suggesting what we might do, he shows us how he does it. This refreshing blog is aptly titled Perennial Meadows. Click here to visit his site.