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.

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