April Diary

Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses can be so pleasing to the eye. Grasses really do whisper just like the song said.  On a dry summer day when the breeze blows through them the effect is tantalising almost dreamlike.  They are the type of hardy plant that you can grow anywhere, so if you have a very large garden and want to reduce the amount of work then a grass garden which is left to grow and cut once a year, might be a good solution.  Grasses and reeds look stunning in the natural landscape and blend sympathetically with real materials like stone and timber. You can create mini-mazes for the children by cutting pathways through it and clearing small areas where they can hide. Grasses attract crickets and other insects.  

They do not require heavy maintenance but each year they need to be trimmed down in the spring so that new growth can begin. Birds and wildlife love them because they are a great place to hide and a fabulous material for nest making.  I visited a friend’s garden in Portland recently and some of her grasses were being pinched by the seagulls. It was lovely to watch them from the convenience of a warm windowsill within the house. Grasses need to be planted en masse to look good.  A large group will look much better than one or two randomly placed in the border.

In a cultivated situation near the house along a border, larger grasses would be towards the back.  Things like Pampas or Miscanthus, Pennisetum Hamlyn and Calamagrostis Karl Foerster. Within the border you might use deschamphias or blue oat grass and at the front you might use the dwarf Pennisetums, Stipa tenuissima or Festuca glauca. The colours are subdued and restful and the seed heads are soft and feathery. They almost create a cloud suspended above the plants. But running through the arrangement you can create excitement with colour by introducing herbaceous plants in groups of threes or fives.  You might choose the very beautiful papery seed heads and sky blue flowers of Catanache caerula. Long lasting colour and flower spikes from Salvia May Night and Rose Queen.

Knautia macedonia is a crimson scabious like flower that extends all through the season into late autumn. They seed everywhere and can be troublesome but the flower makes up for that! Gaura Whirling Butterflies flower themselves silly, blustering billows of white or pink blooms.  Monarda Mahogany, Verbena bonariensis, Hemerocallis Frans Hals , all are outstanding varieties which you could introduce to add the colours you need to weave your tapestry of ornamental grasses and herbaceous planting.

Happy Gardening!  

Sue Dodge

The Company of Landscapers.