Garden design with grasses: the value of ornamental grasses for good garden design
Late summer and early autumn can be a tricky time for our gardens. The heat and bright colours of earlier months are gradually fading away, but we still have a few weeks to wait before the intense yellows, oranges and reds of mid-autumnal foliage. To ‘bridge’ this gap, garden designers like us recognise the value of ornamental grasses. Offering wonderful visual interest and textural contrast throughout late spring and throughout summer, good ornamental grasses really come in to their own at this time of year.
We are fortunate to have so many beautiful grasses to choose from, but here are three of our favourites:
1. Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass)
An absolute star plant, Stipa tenuissima (pictured below) is a gloriously ‘feathery’ grass. Just 40-50cm in height, it has beautifully fine foliage which dances in even the slightest breeze. Offering movement, texture and a lovely fresh green colour, S. tenuissima is fantastic at the front or middle of a mixed planting border. Plant in focal point singles or in drifts to add superb visual interest. Great companion plants include Lavender, Geranium and Heuchera.
2. Stipa gigantea (Spanish oat grass)
A much larger specimen, Stipa gigantea (pictured above) adds attractive height and structure to any garden. Achieving heights of 1.5-2m, it has long slender stalks with beautiful oat-like infloresences. Of great interest throughout the summer months, S. gigantea gets better and better as its foliage gradually fades from green to bronze throughout September. Best planted for textural contrast as part of a mixed planting scheme, either as an eye-catching focal point or in naturalistic drifts. Crocosmia, Foeniculum and Verbena are wonderful tall and airy companions.
3. Miscanthus sacchariflorus (Arum silver grass)
An excellent alternative to bamboo, Miscanthus sacchariflorus is a vigorous upright grass which can grow to heights of 2m+. With long arching leaves, this clump-forming beauty is superb at the middle or rear of a mixed planting border. Light feathery panicles on long stalks appear in autumn and last well into winter. This is a deciduous grass, and older foliage will slowly desiccate in late autumn and early winter before being replaced by new growth the following spring. I like to use M. sacchariflorus alongside broad-leafed shrubs such as Fatsia, Photinia and Mahonia, but it also looks magical alongside or behind Japanese maples.
We definitely wouldn’t want to be without a few ornamental grasses in our own gardens. If you don’t have them already, why not add a few of these special plants to your own garden this autumn?