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Garden Talk: Get into grasses

Ornamental grasses are at their best now. Their faded buttery seedheads look wonderful swaying amongst late summer perennials, purple asters, pink anemones, and yellow helenium. Most like sun and free draining soil (though some are fine in shade) and look amazing in big drifts. But they also work well dotted around smaller gardens linking plants and adding a naturalism, movement and texture to planting. They don’t need feeding or watering when established and add autumn and winter interest. Here are some to try:

Miscanthus

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’ is a popular variety of this striking statement grass with arching leaves and a fountain of burgundy pink flowers in August. Great for late season interest with its coppery autumn leaves. (1.6 m). Starlight is a smaller version.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’ is more compact at 1.2m with burgundy plumes fading to a shimmery silver, so nice where it catches the winter light. It looking great with Anemone x hybrida ‘September Charm.’

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’. A delicate variety that rarely flowers but is grown for the fine cream edged leaves that flatter silvery plants, deep red sedums or dark purples such as Penstemon ‘Raven’.

Stipa

Stipa tenuissima is a small compact grass with soft feathery seedheads in summer. Good mingling with (but not overcrowded by) perennials such as salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’. Likes full sun and well-drained soil. Comb out tatty bits or cut right down in spring for a fresh flush of green.

Stipa gigantieum. This is another statement grass, best in an open spot where the sun can shine through the tall oaty seedheads turning them golden. Takes a while but can get big (2.5m).Needs full sun and good drainage.

Anemanthele lessioniana, (previously Stipa arundinacea) is a very useful mid height evergreen grass that is shade tolerant and turns orange and red in autumn and winter. Self seeds, so pull up unwanted baby plants.

Calamagrostis

Calamacutifolia x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. This is a fab grass with a very upright habit. Fresh green spring leaves turn to fluffy purple flowers and finally long straw-coloured seedheads in summer that sway on their tall stems and looks amazing with pinky purple Verbena bonariensis flowers. (1.8m). Likes sun or part shade.

Calamagrostis brachytricha has similar pale fluffy flower heads turning straw coloured but with a more relaxed arching habit. (1m). Best in full sun as it flops more in shade.

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ is a pretty, smaller, (1.2m), version of Karl Foerster with a similar upright habit and cream-striped leaves. Likes sun or part-shade.

Others

Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ is a smaller mound forming evergreen grass with tiny silvery purple flowers in the summer, maturing to a cloud of delicate golden seedheads. Sun or part shade, moist but well drained soil. (75m)

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea. Good for wetter soils with delicate flower heads and lovely autumn colour, ideal for viewing other plants through. (1.5m)

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

A good variety of this pretty grass with pink fluffy rabbit tail flowers throughout the summer months. Looks good with purple perennials and pink sedums. Full sun, well drained soil. (61-90cm)

Grass care: Cut deciduous grasses right back in late winter, before the new growth appears. Remove seedsheads from evergreen varieties and comb out any tatty bits.

Gardens with grasses near London:

The Olympic Park: prairie style planting from designer Piet Oudolf in the Pleasure Gardens.

Wisley: the Glasshouse Borders and Glasshouse Landscape designed by Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart -Smith.

The Beth Chatto Gardens, Essex: the grasses in the gravel gardens are perfect in September.

Follow Janine on instagram @janinewinlaw

This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of SE22 magazine.

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