Ornamental Grasses – Herbaceous plants for your garden

Ornamental Grasses – Herbaceous plants for your garden

It may not be the ornamental grass that makes the border stand out – in fact its appeal is very subtle – but it adds an extra dimension to the flowerbed and keeps the garden interesting longer, weaving in between other plants and adding movement.

The slightest breeze will make them sway, especially later in the year when their flowering heads dance on slender stems and low light filters through, illuminating their delicate beauty.

In the wild, grasses have adapted to almost every environment, from full sun to deep shade and waterlogged to dry. They can be found in all shapes and sizes too, from the low-growing grasses we mow to make our lawns, to the towering Arundo donax trees that reach over four metres. This makes ornamental grasses incredibly useful in our gardens, and no matter the size of your plot, there are grasses that will enhance it, as long as you choose the right herb.

Grass plants: the right plant, the right place

Although some herbs grow happily in shade, most prefer open, sunny locations with dry soil. Planting can be done at any time of the year provided the soil conditions are good, but avoid doing so in cold weather. If you have heavy, moist soil, delay planting herbs that need good drainage until spring.

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According to turf specialist Neil Lucas of Knoll Gardens in Dorset, grasses do well en masse because they are vigorous architects, but are quite happy in mixed plantings and don't need much aftercare once established. “More success with less work is my principle in ornamental grass gardening,” he says. “It's a beautiful, easy-to-care-for plant, but to get the best out of it, a little timely maintenance is needed.

'There are two types of ornamental grasses – deciduous and evergreen. Pruning and aftercare depends on the type of plant, so it's important to know which type you have.'

Ornamental grasses: caring for them

pennisetum villosum, feather grasscom.pinterest
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Penisitos fluffy

Neil explains that during the winter, deciduous grasses, including miscanthus, panicum and penicitum, tend to have dry and dead-looking stems, so they can be cut back straight to the base at any time from late February onwards. Evergreen plants such as Carex, festuca and pheasant tail grass (Anemanthele Lessoniana) are relatively easy to do – if they look good they don't need pruning at all, although you may want to 'comb' the pheasant grass with your fingers to remove the flowering stems as soon as they appear. It starts to look messy.

Some evergreens, such as blue fescues, may look tired after a year or so and can then be mowed back hard to encourage new growth, but it's important not to do this until the grass is in active growth, otherwise there's a good chance it will grow. From damaging the plant.

Another thing to keep in mind is that herbs, like any other plants, have varied lifespans. Stipa Tenuissima may live for three to five years, while hakonechloa or Panicum can live for 20 years. Pheasant grass is short-lived, so its need for seed is greater than long-lived varieties. Anyone who grows it will know that its seedlings spread all over the garden. There will be more than you need, but plan on losing the parent plant and get enough seedlings to keep the “colony” alive – and treat the others like weeds.

Ornamental grasses, Mexican feathergrass Nassella tenuissima called fancy needlegrass, fine-leafed Nassella, and Argentine needlegrass.com.pinterest
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Very thin package

The best ornamental grasses

• These are the best ornamental grasses that can be used in most gardens, chosen by turf specialist Neil Lucas

Panicum virgatum “North Wind”

A new cultivar and one of our most distinctive, with a strongly upright habit and simply stunning autumn foliage; Great for borders or containers.

Moroi carax dance on ice

An almost indestructible groundcover for dry shade, it forms mats of slightly variegated evergreen leaves that look attractive year-round.

Pennisetum alopecuroides “Dark Desire”

The large, striking bottlebrush-like flowers are produced profusely from mid-summer onwards. It looks beautiful in full sun.

Blue hats

A wonderful native herb that also works beautifully in gardens. There are many varieties but all produce sea flowers that set off other plants almost perfectly.

Hakoneshloa Macra “Oriola”

Great cover in sun or shade which also makes a great container plant; The slow-growing and long-lasting ridges make this plant deservedly popular.

Miscanthus 'Starlight'

It grows in a wonderful compact, free-flowering form with a distinctive round shape. Ideal where the larger miscanthus is too large or in loose informal drifts.

Panicum virgatum Northwind - Switchgrass
Panicum virgatum Northwind – Switchgrass
Credit: Gardening Express
Kirkes Moroi Ice Dance
Kirkes Moroi Ice Dance
Credit: J Parker
Pennisetum dark desire
Dark desire penicitum
Credit: Burford Garden Company.
Molinia caerulea subsp.  Arundinacea
Molinia caerulea subsp. Arundinacea 'transparent'
Credit: Saffron
Hakunshloa Makra
Hakoneshloa Macra “Oriola”
Credit: Sarah Raven
Miscanthus Starlight
Miscanthus Starlight
Credit: Rabwa Gardens

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