Ornamental grasses

Date
Published in
Various local newspapers (UK)
Written by
Kim Wilde

As the majority of gardens in Britain feature a lawn or grassed area, we are all used to looking after and caring for grass in our gardens. However, these days many more of us are enjoying the benefits and pleasure of growing specimen ornamental grasses in our gardens.

Ornamental grasses are some of the most easiest plants you can grow in your garden, because as a group they are generally not fussy and are happy growing in most soil types. Many varieties are adapted to surviving in adverse conditions and whatever your own situation you will always find a variety of grass suitable for you. Highly textural and deservedly trendy, ornamental grasses are invaluable for rich contrasts in the late summer garden. Many are flowering now, and their wispy seed heads in papery shades are the perfect gentle complement for bright border colours at this time of the year.

For background planting and making a bold architectural statement, or to simply provide contrast in texture and colour, few plant groups are so rewarding. Stipa gigantica is a really stunning variety, as its flower heads will tower above other plants and from the green base, flower spikes will rise to 6ft and are covered with oat-like flower heads, which shimmer in the soft summer breeze.

Also Miscanthus sinensis Zebrinus is another wonderful large growing grass, easily mistaken for a bamboo. It has tall upright stems and green variegated long thin strap like leaves.

Most ornamental grasses will look best when planted in groups or drifts between other plants. Very popular at the moment is the relatively new prairie style of planting, where grasses are planted in wonderful swathes, intermingled with bight bold clumps of perennials such as Rudbeckia, Verbena and Monarda. There are many clump-forming grasses, which are ideal for the middle of beds, borders and containers. These include Pennisetum, Phlaris, Festuca and Carex to name but a few.

Pruning deciduous grasses should always be done in the spring, between late February and March by cutting the foliage down to ground level. Grass stems are very structural and add greatly to the seasonal look of a garden during the autumn and winter months. Keeping the stems on until spring will help to protect the rootstock from winter damage, as well as giving valued protection for wildlife.

Kim's tip of the week

Late summer will see many ornamental grasses producing their seed heads. For a quick and inexpensive way of growing new plants next year, collect the seeds by placing a large paper bag over the heads to collect the seeds before they are blown away on the wind. These seeds can be sown the following spring for a plentiful supply of free plants.