Modern Prairie Style

Modern Prairie Style

GARDEN DESIGN TIPS …by Hendy Curzon

It seems that the UK is firmly immersed in a new era of style. This is not, however, just a style that’s an emerging fad. It is more of a change of ethos and lifestyle, a renewed attention to the details. Here, Adrienne Hendy-Curzon, Director of Hendy Curzon Gardens, explores this nationwide resurgence of preference for the natural, provenance, freshness and self-sufficiency – which is accompanied by the evolution of a modern prairie style…

The modern prairie style which has recently emerged across domestic and commercial gardens and landscapes, both in town and country, can be seen as stemming from a universal ’yearning for simplicity’. It shares this underpinning with the original Prairie style movement pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright during the first decade of the 20th century. 

Back then, it was a bold, new approach to domestic architecture, representing a dramatic shift in design that opposed conventional ways of thinking. As it developed from 1894, the Prairie style became characterised by horizontal lines and masses, with the architecture of the houses embracing an all-encompassing philosophy of integration with the surrounding landscape. Wright referred to this as ’organic architecture’ – the primary principle being that the building should look like it belongs to the site and naturally grew there.

As garden designers and installers of landscapes, we have always worked to the belief that spaces truly affect how people feel and how they function. Just as the interior of your home promotes your day-to-day comfort and functionality, your outdoor spaces are in direct relation to this and should extend these principles. Like the Arts & Crafts movement, the original Prairie style movement embraced simplicity and function, championing handcrafting and craftsmanship in an oppositional response to assembly lines and dehumanised products and workers.

Our convergence into modern prairie style is quickly eradicating the notion of a style of garden and landscape that may, to some, have once seemed daunting and impossible to achieve. By paying attention to the details of nature, and opening ourselves up more and more as a nation to our native surroundings, terms like ’wildflower meadow’, ’wildlife garden’, ’cottage garden’ and ’cut flower garden’ no longer seem so allusive.

With the change of this outlook comes a change in our language of the day to day. These are positive and exciting times. Pick up any interiors magazine today and you witness the renaissance of botanics and wildlife across fabrics, wall coverings, ceramics and art direction. Nature corners every curiosity and display. In fashion, a perfect example this season is the Alexander McQueen advertisement in British Vogue which shows an image of native Poppies and prairie grasses with no words and no garment of actual clothing.

Early in our company’s career, we were appointed to create a natural wildflower landscape on a vast scale surrounding a completely oak-clad modernist house. What naturally emerged as our designs evolved was a desire to let the landscape seem wild but somehow controllable and contained, with the house acting as the anchor point. Our admiration of the projects of the great plantsman and designer Piet Oudolf influenced our decision to deploy a perennial discipline of prairie planting to portions of the property. 

This modern prairie project resulted in a large, undulated and graded landscape of four distinct parts: naturalised wildflower meadows surrounded a productive garden with Orchard; a natural swimming pond with rivers of perennial prairie style planting; a take on a formal Victorian walled garden, with inherited Beech hedges acting as the walls; and an organically shaped parterre containing more perennial prairie planting style schemes. These areas flowed to form a coherent journey, with the house at the heart. In classical prairie style, it grew from the landscape as if was always there, at one with its surroundings.

Since then, we, as a company, have encouraged our clients and blog readers to explore
the use of heritage flowers and prairie style planting by presenting these ideas in modern contexts. We always consider the modern prairie style to be somewhat painterly and with a strong focus on seasonal colour and balance. It’s a way of paring back that wild, country look by harnessing it into contemporary formats.

Thankfully, over the last decade we have seen more and more wildflowers growing in cities thanks to guerrilla gardening schemes and seed bombs. They are also often planted alongside edible projects in urban schools and communities. Over the same period, we have witnessed perennial grasses peaking in popularity and then falling out of fashion again almost as quickly. Now, with the firm positioning of modern prairie style in our culture, those grasses are creeping back in to favour again. With wider landscapes and a true sense of country at heart – both in town and country – we think they will be planted in contexts and styles with more longevity this time around.

Hand in hand with the rise of the modern prairie style in garden and landscape design comes the rise of British Flower farmers and a growing market demand. This, in turn, is impacting the wedding and floristry market with a clear trend towards natural, prairie style weddings. Hand tied jam-jar posies and bouquets, effortless archways and swags as if gathered from a hedgerow, vintage look backdrops and tablescapes all encapsulate prairie style and are the epitome of British style right now.

Prairie style was originally influenced by the transcendentalist philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that better homes make better people. Modern prairie style today adheres to that same sentiment as it celebrates our British heritage and stands for a clear dedication to our future in sustainable ways. It is a time of achieving that much coveted, effortless style that is now so attainable – indeed, it is at our fingertips.

 

MODERN PRAIRIE STYLE: GETTING STARTED

If space is tight, create a mini-meadow
Plant in pots and planters. Wildflowers are the new wave in annuals and, for the cost of a few seed packets, they are easy and cheap to experiment with. Try a twist on the traditional English Countryside and grow the bluest Cornflowers (we recommend var. ’Blueboy’) alongside cut flower grade Sunflowers. Also grow as alternative sunny borders and allow to naturalise in to the lawn.

Dark and dramatic
Create dark backdrops with painted fences (we recommend Farrow & Ball ’Railings’) for bright wildflowers to pop against. Or plant Blackball Cornflowers and poppies as a meadow patch surrounding a water feature or sculpture.

Be productive
Mix with edibles. Plant an orchard surrounded by wildflowers and mown paths, or grow wildflowers as cut flowers alongside edibles in productive gardens and parterres.

Perennial prairie
Layer perennials based on height, texture, colour palette and plant with rhythm. Juxtapose with structural swathes of grasses (we like Panicum virgatum ’Heavy Metal’ right now) and hazy shades of foliage punctuated with architectural blooms such as Echinaceas.

If space allows, go all out
Carve, construct and mow naturalised Land Art from your available landscape’s resources.

Bring outside in
on’t forget to embrace your creative freedom with modern prairie style displays of your wildflowers and hedgerow cuttings inside your home. These work in even the most formal of settings.            


Hendy Curzon Gardens constructs, plants and project manages the gardens, landscapes and exterior spaces that the firm designs. All elements of these bespoke projects are covered in-house. Each garden that the team creates is unique and a direct reflection of the individual client’s needs and tastes. Examples of Hendy Curzon’s work and portfolio can be viewed at www.hendycurzon.com. You can also find the company on houzz.co.uk and facebook.com/hendycurzongardens    

 

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