Watching the grasses grow
DURING late summer, the contemporary garden takes on different textures and colours as a new palette of plants matures. It’s peak time for many of the ornamental grasses that have started flowering and will continue to do so until autumn.
Some grasses, such as Miscanthus, will look superb right through winter, standing tall with flowerheads that remain intact, albeit fading to silver. I don’t cut these back until around March or April as they are still providing good interest before the spring perennials really take off.
In larger scale landscaping, they can look wonderful planted en masse, but in the smaller garden, that approach doesn’t always work so well.
I think they’re often best planted in combination, either with colourful perennials or evergreen plantings so that some structural interest remains once the more delicate grasses collapse at the end of the season.
Grasses are relatively lowmaintenance, though if you have a lot of them, the annual cutting back can be quite a job.
Using evergreen varieties such as Carex morrowii will lessen the work. These can get a little scruffy, so benefit from a cut back every few years to allow for fresh clean growth.
There’s great versatility to be found with this type of planting, with varieties suitable for both sun and shade positions, and damp or dry conditions. Taller columnar types make good focal points or upright accents in a border, while the fountain-shape types look really well in pots.
Here are some ideas of how to combine them with other plants:
Stipa gigantea is the graceful giant of the grass world, achieving heights of over 2.5 metres, but because the stems are so see-through and the fountain of golden oat-like flowers is light and airy, it never overpowers. Gorgeous paired with Verbena bonariensis, which has little balls of mauve flowers which seem to float atop leggy stems, as well as Sanguisorba with its bottlebrush flowers on tall stems.
Pennisetum, Chinese fountain grass, has fluffy bottlebrush flowers which tempt you to caress them. ‘Karley Rose’ has lovely rose purple flower spikes and I’ve planted them beside buxus balls to loosen the planting scheme.
For smaller gardens, ‘Little Bunny’ is more compact and would associate well with late-flowering perennials
Foxtail fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) such as Michaelmas daisies (Aster) and cheerful Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm.’
Stipa tenuissima, Mexican feather grass, is a cute little grass with a fluffy blonde ponytail which works well in many herbaceous planting schemes. It loves the sun and is wonderful for introducing a light feathery effect and linking different groups of plants. I think it’s really pretty paired with some pink cosmos.
Imperata cylindrica is the Japanese blood grass, which has flat lime-green leaves that turn blood red from the tips towards the bases to make a dramatic display.
Its fiery appearance pairs well with those late-summer, bold-coloured perennials such as false sunflower, Heliopsis, rich red and orange heleniums, and crocosmia. Grow in full sun or partial shade, but keep them moist for optimal appearance.
Hakonechloa is the Japanese forest grass and perhaps my favourite – the surprise every autumn is the beautiful orange tints that appear.
It has a beautiful dome shape and at the moment I’m pairing it with Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ for a cool white and green elegant planting scheme.
Hakonechloa macra Aureola ornamental grasses planted underneath a deciduous tree
Miscanthus is great for the garden and the environment because it absorbs more carbon than it releases
Pennisetum orientale seedheads, above, and Imperata Rubra cylindrica Red Baron grass, below
YOU can increase your stock of border carnations by layering – choose a healthy side shoot that isn’t flowering, bend it over without snapping the stem and peg firmly into the ground with some wire. Cover the stem with soil and water in. DIVIDE overcrowded
bearded irises to improve their vigour for next year. CYCLAMEN corms that you have been storing can be started into growth in the greenhouse. HAVING trouble with earwigs on your dahlias? Make traps, right, with pots stuffed with shredded paper or straw, and remove earwigs daily. PRUNE climbing and rambling roses if they have finished flowering. CONIFER and evergreen hedges can have a final trim before autumn slows their growth.
Beautiful Stipa gigantea – known as golden oats