On my way back from holidaying in Istria, driving though the town on my way back to the airport – I was struck by the sight of a large area planted with the fountain grass, Pennisetum. Passing at speed in a taxi, I’m not sure what variety it was but it was the fluffy heads catching the wind that made me notice it. It’s these fun, flowering stems that set it apart from other grasses. You have varieties named ‘Fairy Tails’ and ‘Little Bunny’ and you can see why; other varieties I have tried and tested are P. macrourum and the purple toned P. ‘Hameln’; plant as a group for real impact.
So how do you go about designing with grasses and choosing ones that work for you? You see them in the garden centre but do you know how to use them in your garden? They can be beautiful and so effective when used properly, either on their own or mixed in with perennials. Any garden with a little wind cries out for grasses – the graceful movement and gentle noise add a unique element.
Their main benefit is to add well-shaped, strong foliage that extends the gardening season, adding impact well into autumn and winter when most other perennials are dying back. They are low maintenance – some are evergreen and others deciduous, only needing to be cut back once a year.
Before choosing your variety of grass, consider first where you want to plant, and check how much sun falls in that area. The majority of grasses enjoy sun, originating from hot climates in Africa and Asia, so if you need to choose one to thrive in shade that needs a little more research and care. Some suggestions:
Anemanthele lessoniana – evergreen grass with lovely autumn colours
Deschampsia cespitosa – native grass
Hakonechloa macra – a low growing grass, good for shady under-planting of trees
Stipa tenuissima – the wispy Feather grass
Stipa gigantea – planted singularly with the sun behind it
Miscanthus - stands well throughout winter