Ornamental Grasses- give your garden some movement

 

The South East is a windy place. Rather than fight the climate why not surrender and introduce some beautiful ornamental grasses into your garden. When it is breezy other garden shrubs are stubbornly immoveable but the long hair of grasses flow out across the beds and make one feel alive and wild! They also vote the spirit of the countryside like no other plant which is why they are becoming so popular in the middle of out concrete cities.

 

If you are going to go for some grasses don’t do it by halves. One or two in a bed will look lonely and the full ‘grass effect’ won’t be achieved.

 

If you have a large garden you can even plant them in large blocks or ribbons that run through the beds like a river.

 

Grasses are very easy to maintain. They take awhile to get going but by July they are  making their presence felt and creating interest in the garden as the early Summer plants begin to fade.

 

The great benefit of grasses is that they can be left all winter. As the green sap is withdrawn into their roots they turn a sandy golden colour and can catch the dew and then the frosts. Once a few little sprigs of green appear in Sping you can be radical and cut them down to the ground in Spring. At the Praire Gardens near Henfield they burn almost the entire garden down to the ground!

 

Some are evergreen of course and so just subtle thinning out is needed.

 

How to know which ones to select for the garden?

 

I’ll give my favourites here but here are literally thousands to choose from and some nurseries now specialize in grasses alone.

 

Big Beauties

 

When choosing big grasses really make sure they fit into the proportions of your garden. If they are too big they can look like hairy scarry Triffids intimidating all the little plants.

 

The great queen of grasses are the Pampass Grasses- Contaderia. They were used as a feature plant in the 70’s in front gardens but now are an object of ridicule mainly I think because they did not achieve any integration in the rest of the planting scheme.

 

But they can be planted with other large grasses and their creamy white flower heads appear like beautiful spears amongst a mass of other grasses. Try planting one with Miscanthus Zebra Grass, Miscanthus Flamingo which it’s ridiculously graceful pink seed heads and Miscanthus Yukkashuma.

 

Also Cortaderia ricardii is a much more arching delicate Pampas which fits better into most medium sized gardens.

 

The mid range of grasses- for years Stipa giganta has been the great must have for it’s well behaved structure and golden oats effect in the setting sun- but have a look at the more explosive Molinia Karl Foester.

 

Other mid sized grasses include Calamagrostis Karl Foester and Pannicum Shenandoah which is very upright and has a red tinge to the foliage.

 

For the smaller grasses my favourite is Anemanthele lessoniana. It has coppery, green and hay coloured foliage, has a relaxed habit and doesn’t mind some dry shade. It gets to about 2/3 foot high.

 

For really dry conditions look to the Carex range such as Carex diva and Cares Ice Dance.

 

There is an annual grass i have discovered recently called Pannicum ‘Frosted Explosion’. It has the most frothy delicate foliage and seed heads imaginable and even though it is an annual it self seeds so if you have a nice sunny bed let it do its stuff.

 

Then there are the little bullet proof grasses for the small garden- the black grass Ophiopogon, Vestuca gluuca and Stipa tennuisima. I like Sessleria as it is bright green in the spring, fades in the Summer, then comes back for another green showing in the Autumn. Blue Oat grass is a sturdy small grass too but doesn’t like to be waterlogged.

 

hey can be planted with other large grasses and their creamy white flower heads appear like beautiful spears amongst a mass of other grasses. Try planting one with Miscanthus Zebra Grass, Miscanthus Flamingo which it’s ridiculously graceful pink seed heads and Miscanthus Yukkashuma.

 

Also Cortaderia ricardii is a much more arching delicate Pampas which fits better into most medium sized gardens.

 

 

 

Companion planting

 

If you study grasses in the English countryside you will see that flowers poke up through- whether it is a wildflower meadow or the verge of the road- and we can reproduce this in our gardens.

 

Have a look at these combinations. Stop tennuissima with Agapanthas, Miscanthus Yukkashuma with Sanguisorba Pink Brushes, Molinia Paul Peterson with Allium Purple Sensation and Pennisetum Viridesence with Helenium Moorhead Beauty.

 

If you decide to go for it make sure the grasses are well balanced across the garden so that when a wind arrives so can see its passage via the grass movement. Also make sure the grasses are planted in positions that make sense- ie as if they had always been there!

 

Good luck!