Wilde side

Kim Wilde answers your gardening questions.

I’m trying to put together a prairie seed mix. I like the idea of grasses and seed heads that will last all winter.
The rise in naturalistic planting based around grasses and tall perennials has partly been inspired by the beauty of the US countryside, especially its meadows and prairies. Its characteristics are that plants are fully hardy, long-lived, pest- and drought-resistant, and easy to maintain. Structure is most important, with the emphasis on shapes of flowers and seed heads, then on leaf shape, texture and, lastly, colour. Plants with good structure include monarda (bergamot), dipsacus (teasel), miscanthus, stipa, phlomis, eryngium, echinops and sanguisorba species. Late flowers include Aster laevis , Helianthus mollis , Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii , Echinacea purpurea and, of course, the stunning Verbena bonariensis . I would also include bulbs for spring interest such as Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and the slender spikes of Camassia leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii . For seed supplies, contact Jelitto Seeds, (01480 463570) or Pictorial Meadows (0114 2224439).

I am only able to grow my runner beans along the northern edge of my vegetable plot, otherwise I deprive my other plants of sunlight. I know that it is essential to rotate crops, but can I ‘cheat the system’ by rotating the soil instead?
You can get away with growing runner beans on the same spot for up to three years if you prepare the trench every autumn, digging in lots of organic matter, then growing them elsewhere for a year. Given your restrictions, how about growing dwarf runner beans such as ‘Hestia’ or ‘Pickwick’, so less light is taken from the rest of the plot? Crop rotation stops the build-up of pests and diseases; you should continue to do this with your other crops. Roughly, there are three groups: one includes peas, beans, onions, garlic, leeks and celery; the second the brassicas (ie, cabbages, cauliflowers, turnips, etc); and the third carrots, parsnips, beetroot, courgettes and potatoes.