Grass beyond the LawnAlison Marsden
I often recommend using ornamental grasses in a mixed border along with the more traditional cottage garden perennials for interest right through the winter. There are many different grasses and grass-like plants to choose from and not all suit every situation so this blog looks at the questions you should ask to make the right choice.
The main plant families involved are Grasses and Sedges; there are a few annual grasses but in a mixed border I feel that perennials that will last for many years are more useful. And there are a few that are too invasive for most gardens and I generally counsel against. The main candidates here are the striped grass Phalaris, aka Gardener’s Garter which spreads rapidly by underground stems and swamps its neighbours, and the native sedge Carex pendula, which creates thick clumps of evergreen, strappy leaves and seeds extremely freely to spread through the whole border. This still leaves 200 plus choices and there are four key questions to ask as you narrow down the list:
- Height: Grasses range from 20-25cm for ground cover right up to 1.5-2m for the back of a larger border.
- Evergreen or deciduous: deciduous grasses are those where the top growth dies off to look like straw though the winter and are cut down to the ground each spring. Evergreens are not cut back but you do need to comb out the old dead leaves in spring.
- Vertical or fountain: the growth habit of grasses. Some are vertical with leaves and flowers both on upright stems, for others the leaves all grow from the crown without a stem and arch over in a fountain or doughnut shape. The flowering stems usually grow upright to stand above the leaves and this is the height given on the label.
- Wet or dry soil: there are basically two types of grass, those native to prairie, pampas or steppe requiring good drainage and those native to bogs and marshes requiring water retentive soil.
You can have any combination of these four characteristics so it is worth spending a bit of time working out what you want. That way lies success.
Happy Gardening from Alison
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