Ex­pert ’s choice

When all else is fad­ing, these el­e­gant grasses with bristly heads are at their best, says Gra­ham Rice

Gardeners' World - - We Love November -

We all get con­fused about grasses. We know the dif­fer­ence be­tween a dahlia and a chrysan­the­mum but sort­ing out the dif­fer­ent grasses is much more of a chal­lenge. One group that’s eas­ier to iden­tify than most is the foun­tain grasses, Pen­nise­tum, at­trac­tive peren­nial grasses from warmer parts of the world with their peak sea­son of in­ter­est in late sum­mer and au­tumn. What sets them apart from other grasses is the mass of bristly bot­tle­brush spikes, foun­tains of them, up­right or arch­ing, held above slen­der, grace­ful fo­liage emerg­ing from tough, tight, slowly spread­ing crowns. The flow­ers may be creamy or var­i­ous tan and bis­cuit shades, some with pink or red over­tones, with many re­tain­ing their looks right through the au­tumn into win­ter and even into spring. The long, nar­row fo­liage is at­trac­tive with­out be­ing stun­ning – un­til au­tumn when the leaves of­ten de­velop golden, but­tery shades, per­haps with cop­pery over­tones, as the sea­son ad­vances. One species, the half hardy P. x ad­vena, even comes in some dra­matic dark-red and var­ie­gated va­ri­eties. As fea­tures in au­tumn con­tain­ers, in drifts through in­for­mal prairie-style bor­ders, as in­trigu­ing soft­en­ers in bold, late-sea­son dis­plays, in gravel… pen­nise­tums have many uses. They’re sub­tle but ex­ude real pres­ence. You won’t re­gret plant­ing them.

Po­si­tion Happy in most free-drain­ing soils that are not wet in win­ter. Best in full sun and will tol­er­ate some shade from the side, but not from over­head. Care All those men­tioned here ex­cept P. x ad­vena (and many we rarely grow) are hardy in the right con­di­tions. All are good in pots and will tol­er­ate an oc­ca­sional missed wa­ter­ing. Cut back to ground level in spring just as the new growth starts. Where to buy alpine­sand­grasses.co.uk, 01775 640935; knoll­gar­dens.co.uk, 01202 873931; mead­ow­gatenurs­ery.co.uk, 01243 641997

PLANT DI­REC­TORY Find the per­fect Pen­nise­tum for your gar­den by us­ing our plant fin­der at gar­den­er­sworld.com/ plant-fin­der

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