Splendour in Ornamental Grass
Looking for a plant with architectural qualities, a hint of the exotic and very low-care, low thirst requirement? Ornamental grasses could be your answer. Flowering grasses provide a sensory sensation in the garden that far outweighs their demands for care, or their initial investment. Many, including Imperata, Calamagrostis and Miscanthus are ‘trouble free’ bringing pleasure year after year. They are also fantastic for softening up hard landscaping, perhaps on a new-build site or modernizing an older property.
The range of ornamental grasses available these days means that you can find something for every situation. In even the smallest garden you should be able to plant specimens of several different species/varieties. The taller species and varieties offer the promise of sensory reward from the movement and sound as breezes blow through the leaves. Most grasses are suitable for container planting and will winter well with a little protection.
Here is a glimmer of the wide variety of shapes and sizes on offer. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ (silver feather) can develop stems as long as 2.5m that remain as an attractive garden feature through winter. The leaves of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ are shorter (reaching about 1.2m), but the creamy horizontal banding they exhibit can make them appear stippled in sunshine on cloudy days. Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’, also known as the ‘Red Baron’, is another spectacular grass. It’s a clump-forming plant and the leaves are shorter, at about 40cm, but they turn red from the tips of the stems downwards, almost as far as the base. Penisetum villosum (also known as feathertop) is an example of a wonderful perennial grass that produces soft, feathery heads in late summer and early autumn.
Ornamental grasses combine well with other plants. Good choices of summer flowering plants include black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower while autumn flowering plants, such as asters, helianthus or chrysanthemums all make good partners. Foliage plants can also be effective alongside more subtle grasses. For example a side-by-side blend of the foliage of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland’ and Helictotrichon sempervirens ‘Blue Oat Grass’ can be a delightful and understated combination.
Most grasses are easy to grow and will thrive in even poorer soils, though they do tend to need a full sun position. That being said there are some outstanding shade grasses that brighten and add punch to any hosta garden. Once established they will perform year after year with the minimum of intervention and have low water requirements, making them perfect for drought-prone areas. However, if you want to do your best by them, feed in spring with a generous helping of compost or general purpose fertiliser. Ornamental grasses are sufficiently sturdy to survive the odd ball being kicked through them, which makes them the ideal choice for a family garden.