Ornamental grasses are one of the most versatile groups of plants for garden planting. They are unfussy, free from disease and easy to grow being tolerant to a range of conditions. They are very diverse in size, colour and texture giving architectural shapes with gentle rustling sounds and movement as the breeze blows through the stems. They associate especially well with herbaceous perennial plants and can be used as accent plants, screens or focal points in mixed borders. Most varieties will accommodate extreme temperatures and drought and still look good regardless of weather. Grasses establish quickly and can be divided in early spring when the new shoots are starting to emerge to either replant in other areas or give to gardening friends. Early spring is also the best time to prune established ornamental grasses. Deciduous grasses should be sheared back to 10cms leaving an uncongested tuft from which the new growth emerges. Large varieties can even be pruned with a hedge trimmer. Evergreen Grasses can be tidied at any time but if rejuvenation is needed early spring is recommended. Cordylines should be protected from winter damage by tying the leaves together with string but tend to shed the lower leaves naturally as the plant grows. Phormiums need protection in severe weather so grow in tubs that can be moved to shelter.
Tall Grasses can be used very effectively to create screens for privacy, hiding unsightly areas or providing a backcloth to other plants. The bamboos are very effective in these situations being evergreen and only requiring trimming to restrict the size but they can be invasive.
Panicum virgatum Warrior The Switch Grass with lovely flowers in late summer that are green orange and then red or Panicum virgatum Rehbraum whose leaves turn from green to deep red in late summer.
Stipa Giganteum The Golden Oat Grass is semi evergreen with arching stems of golden oat like flower heads above grey green leaves. It is an excellent specimen plant perfect for introducing movement and gentle sound and looks stunning under planted with purple Alliums and Agapanthus.
Cortaderia The Pampas Grass is another evergreen with long evergreen silvery green leaves and beautiful feathery plume flowers in late summer and autumn which provide winter interest or if cut and dried for decorating the house. It is a very effective accent or focal plant.
Miscanthus Gold Bar The Zebra Grass a real favourite with neat arching stems of green leaves striped creamy white plant The Red Hot Poker Kniphofia Bee’s Lemon nearby for a dramatic effect.
Miscanthus Morning Light is deciduous producing fresh new growth every spring. A very elegant grass which has slender grey green leaves with cream margins. The red brown flowers appear in autumn and hold throughout winter.
Calamagrostis Karl Foerster planted in a tall narrow pot gives a dramatic profile to a modern patio. The upright grass has feathery plumes in summer and bleached stems that catch frost in winter giving a dramatic ghostly shape. Another contemporary effect is by planting Juncus Curly Wurly an evergreen grass which forms a clump of corkscrew like leafless stems in an egg shaped cream glazed pot.
Ophiopogen planiscarpus Nigrescens is a smaller grass which forms clumps of black leaves and violet flowers is summer followed by black berries. It looks good planted in groups with brightly variegated Euonymus Gaiety or Brunnera Jack Frost.
Uncinia rubra is an evergreen small sedge grass with reddish green leaves and black flower spikes in summer plant in groups near brightly coloured perennials like Heuchera Marmalade.
The low growing grasses are excellent ground cover plants which decorate bare soil and smother weed growth. They are good edging plants for paths or ponds and the evergreen varieties for winter colour in patio containers.
Carex Evergold is an evergreen with long golden leaves with deep green edges and has won the RHS Award of Garden Merit. It is a tough little plant for all the above uses. Carex Prairie Fire is a stunning evergreen with green leaves with brilliant orange tips. It turns a burnt orange colour in autumn that stays all winter.
Festuca Glauca Intense Blue is another evergreen grass with amazing bright silver blue narrow arching leaves which forms a delightful small mound. The biscuit coloured flowers appear in summer on upright stems. It is very tolerant to drought and requires little maintenance or water so ideal for patio pots.
Grasses are a great addition to any garden often looking their best towards the end of summer when many plants are winding down for a winter rest. You can achieve traditional and contemporary combinations with other plants in pots or garden sculptures making magical artistic designs with the simplest of all plants The Grass.
It’s January and our Gardening Year begins again.
Here in the darkest winter days there’s a fresh enthusiasm and plans to be made for the garden in this whole new Gardening Year.
Venture to the Garden Centre and you will see some of the delights that could be colourful and exciting in your garden even in the middle of winter.