Introduction to Ornamental Grass and Grasses
Ornamental grasses have become popular additions to border plantings in recent years and have come to the fore as a result of interest in more naturalistic styles of planting. The Steppe and Prairie style of planting rely heavily on ornamental grasses since that is the main stay of these two wildernesses.
Ornamental grass varieties tend to be very pest and disease free and easy to grow. Generally soils that are well drained, have impoverished nutrients and are in full sun suit ornamental grass best. Grasses do well in windy situations and establish fast.
Some of the late flowering hardy perennial plants look especially effective when planted with ornamental grasses.
Most ornamental grass varieties are at their best in late summer and autumn. However, many look spectacular when the tops turn straw coloured in winter too.
Alan Down has written about using ornamental grass in gardens here.
Tall Ornamental Grasses
The most popular tall grass used is probably Miscanthus. This is not to be confused with the much stronger growing ‘Elephant Grass’ – also a Miscanthus – that is grown for bio-mass! There are many varieties of Miscanthus sinensis and we grow those that are most likely to bloom in Britain [some require hotter summers to do this].
But there are many other excellent tall ornamental grasses to plant! The Feather Reed Grass – Calamagrostis – is very popular especially ‘Karl Foerster’. Buffalo Grass [Panicum] has masses of tiny flowers and leaves and stems that change to a glorious warm orange in autumn. Tussock Grass [Deschampsia] is also a grass with fine dainty flowers. Molinia [Purple Moor Grass] is a great British native grass that has good winter colour.
The Giant Oat [Stipa gigantea] looks spectacular when planted as a single specimen in gravel or perhaps with tall purple Verbena bonariensis.
Medium Height Ornamental Grasses
Helictotrichon -Blue Oat Grass- perhaps the most beautiful of all blue grasses.
Stipa arundinacea-Pheasant Grass- is virtually evergreen and has a water fountain like arching growth habit.
Stipa tenuissima -Pony Tail Grass- is popular in pots and planted amongst perennials such as Rudbeckia and Helenium.
Stipa brachytricha has the boldest of flower heads of Stipa.
Pennisetum Fountain Grasses are late to flower but have the softest bunny-tail like blooms.
Phalaris arundinacea Feesey -Gardener’s Garters – has brightly silver striped leaves and does well as a marginal bog plant too.
Festuca glauca are short and intensely blue when planted at the front of a sunny border.
Carex [Sedges] preferring moisture and tolerant of some shade, the sedges often have attractively variegated leaves. They are excellent when combined with other plants in containers and especially good for winter colour. We especially think that Carex Everest is a very good variety.
Many ornamental grasses have coloured stems and leaves. The Japanese Blood Grass is especially popular for a warm spot in the garden.
Blue or yellow Festuca glauca are attractive in pots or at the front of borders. Many variegated grasses are worth growing for their leaves alone.
Milium effusum Aureum [Bowles Golden Grass] is a superb yellow grass to light up a shady area.
Plants that look good with grasses
Many late flowering perennials look better when planted amongst ornamental grasses.
Achillea, Crocosmia, Helenium, Helianthus, Kniphofia and Rudbeckia and provide the ‘hotter’ colours.
Japanese Anemone, Echinacea, Echinops, Eryngium, Gaura, Perovskia and Verbena bonariensis provide the ‘cooler’ colours.
Alan Down has written a blog on late flowering perennials here.
Ornamental Grass look-a-likes
Liriope is often planted with grasses but it is actually in the asparagus family! Sometimes called ‘Lily-turf’ this is a tough edging plant that will even grow in dry shade. It has low grass-like leaves but striking purple flower spires in early autumn.
Ophiopogon is also member of the asparagus family and is known as Dwarf Mondo Grass. Slowly producing a neat mat of almost black leaves, this looks great when inter-planted with short Crocus or snowdrop bulbs.
Our Production Nursery
We grow almost all the ornamental grasses that we sell but occasionally we run short and have to buy some in. We always try to source all our plants from local growers if at a ll possible.