Blades of glory
Autumn heralds the gentle demise of the garden, but you can give it an extra lease of life by growing ornamental grasses. Annie Green-Armytage looks at some favourites
Annie Green-Armytage on garden grasses
IT’S THAT time of year again. Everything’s dying back, the first frosts are encroaching, and the garden is looking bare. I’m not a big fan. Over the years, though, I have learnt that all is not lost. Ornamental grasses are one of the few types of plant which come into their own at this time of year, flowering late and standing tall (mostly), long after they have finished flowering, with feathery plumes, silky tassels, or frothy clouds of seedheads.
My first grass was a Miscanthus. Well, there were two of them actually, as I couldn’t choose between M. transmorrisonensis, a statuesque plant with wide, drooping foliage and large pink-tinged flowers, and the slender, stripy foliage of M. sinensis ‘Zebrinus’. That was at least 15 years ago and I haven’t managed to kill them off despite generous helpings of neglect, which tells you something about the staying power of this grass.
Miscanthus comes in different shapes and sizes but it’s fair to say a mature clump will take up a sizeable space in your border as they grow outwards as well as upwards. In common with many grasses, they prefer fairly well-drained conditions, although we are on clay here, so some moisture is clearly acceptable. The foliage develops in the spring, providing a good backdrop to summer-flowering perennials, but the grass takes centre stage late in the season when the flower spikes unfurl in a fountain of silky pink panicles. These fade to brown but stay standing proud during the winter, lending height and structure, and looking fabulous in a hard frost.
It’s safe to say that I am rather partial to a Miscanthus, but there are other similar genuses, including the more upright
Calamagrostis x acutiflora (‘Karl Foerster’ is a
View of gazebo through the perennial meadow of the Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe. Plants include seed-heads of Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’ and Astilbe chinensis var. taquetii ‘Purpurlanze’ in the foreground, with Helenium ‘Rubinzwerg’, Molinia...
Top right: Tall perennial planting combination at Hoecroft Nursery includes Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstsonne’, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ and Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ in the foreground.