Grasses – their use and importance in Garden Design

Ornamental grasses and sedges have been used very effectively in all sorts of planting designs for a number of years now and rightly so. They not only provide glamour and movement to a planting scheme, but they also extend interest well in to the winter months.

Whether your garden is open and sunny or shaded, there is a grass and /or sedge that will suit.

Many clients are hesitant about including ornamental grasses in to their planting schemes and much of the fear seems to be that there is not enough room or that the grasses will run wild and self seed all over the place. However, although some species of both grass and sedge will self seed, this is rarely a problem that a bit of judicious weeding cannot solve and no worse than some herbaceous perennials. As for size, well just choose a grass or sedge species that has a mature size to suit the space available.

Block planting of grass species can look fantastic if you have the room and a very fine example of this is at Scampston Hall, Walled Garden, Yorkshire. Here the renowned Dutch planstman and designer Piet Oudolf has created an inspired and wonderful garden incorporating, very successfully, block planting of molinia grasses.

However, for the smaller garden and planting design, ornamental grasses and sedges can be easily incorporated in to any planting scheme to great effect. So don’t be shy, give them a try.

Favourite ornamental grasses:

Calamgrostis brachytricha – wonderful feathery, purple flower heads that are produced late summer and dry to an oaty brown colour. These seed heads stand well through the winter months and look fabulous after a heavy dew when the drops of water sparkle on the morning light. Looks grerat in any planting scheme in any size garden

Hakonechloa macra – a shade tolerant variety that produces a mound of thin strap like leaves, that turn a red orange in the autumn and eventually to pale brown through the winter months. Wonderful planted around the base of trees or along the edges of shady borders.

Stipa gingantea – this is an evergreen grass and produces tall oat like golden flowerheads up to 2.5m tall. These add an ethereal effect to planting schemes, particularly when the light shines through the flower heads making them sparkle. Even though this grass is tall it does not take up a lot of space so can be incorporated in to any size planting scheme

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’ – this is quite compact for a miscanthus at 1.2m high, so is ideal for smaller gardens. However, it is still a dramatic grass with narrow silvery green leaves which have a white stripe down the centre and feathery, reddish brown, plume like flower heads, which fade to silver in the autumn. These silvery flower heads look amazing shimmering under a setting sun.

Carex elata ‘Aurea’ – This golden sedge not only tolerates shade but prefers a moist soil and so is ideal for growing around pond margins or in wetter parts of the garden. It’s fine lime green foliage lights up the darkest corner and contrast well with darker, larger leaved plants.

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