Gardening with ornamental grassesAlison Marsden
As the midsummer blaze of flowers in our borders starts to fade, a whole group of plants is coming into its own to take us through autumn and winter with colour and texture: the ornamental Grasses. The range of grasses and grass-like plants on offer has increased hugely in recent years and the first step to choosing and using grasses in your garden is to decide what you want them to provide.
Some grasses make a great focal point, reaching over 2m tall, either with a robust clump of vertical stems as in Miscanthus or with a low fountain of leaves and flower heads rising above as in the Giant Oat grass, Stipa gigantea. Others make good ground cover and include evergreen Sedges such as Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ and C.’Ice Dance’. Both have variegated leaves for added interest. And there are all sizes in between for you to plant amongst hardy perennials or shrubs to prolong the season. An advantage of grasses used in a mixed border is that although the stems may dry off in autumn they will stay upright through most of the winter. This can create a strong visual contrast between evergreen shrubs and hazy, tawny grasses when there is little else on show.
The second consideration is how wet or dry the soil is. All plants have a preference for the growing conditions usually derived from their natural habitat. Grasses (& similar) are no exception and the two extremes are plants that are native to prairie, steppe or pampas – unsurprisingly these need good drainage and will rot off in winter if waterlogged, and plants that originate from stream sides and bogs where rich, water retentive soil is required, that does not dry out even in summer. As always in the garden, a finely textured soil with a good organic matter content gives you the widest choice of these most definitely garden-worthy plants.
Happy Gardening from Alison