Ornamental Grasses

Ever since the Feather Reed Grass ‘Karl Foerster’ was selected as perennial of the year in 2001, gardeners have become increasingly interested in Ornamental Grasses – a rather broad title for grasses, rushes etc. The selection is huge, but the benefits even greater, the most intriguing being winter interest: graceful arching stalks, drizzled with snow, swaying in the winter breezes. Once established, grasses are low maintenance, not very particular about their soil and, for the most part, pest- and disease-free. Some are cool season (doing most of their growing early in the season), and some are warm season (doing really well when it is hot), offering different colours and patterns of blades and flowers.

Maiden grass (Miscanthus) and fescues (Festuca) like sun; sedges (Carex) and moor grasses (Molinia) are fine in a shady spot.

There are short grasses (Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’, variegated sweet grass: 25cm; sun and shade; moist); taller grasses (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, maiden grass: 150cm+, with plumes 180cm+); clumping grasses (Helictotrichon sempervirens, blue oat grass: 50 cm, with plumes rising to at least double that; sunny to part shade) and running grasses (Elymus arenarius, blue lyme grass; Phalaris arundinacea ‘Picta’, ribbon grass; Miscanthus sinensis ‘Sacchariflorus’, silver banner grass). Although running grasses can be invasive, they’re great for erosion control and do well in ditches. There are upright grasses (Calamagrostis, feather reed grasses: sun) and arching grasses (Pennisetum, fountain grasses: sun) and even mounding grasses (Hakonechloa macra, Hakone grass: shade).

Plant your grasses around the same time that you are planting your perennials; if you already have grasses, and they need to be divided (often the centre dies out), do so in the Spring. Plant grasses so the crown is just at the soil level.

Why not consider a grass if you need an accent plant, a backdrop for your border, some filler or a ground cover?