Garden trends - ornamental grasses

The fashion for naturalistic planting continues, and key to this soft, unstructured look is using ornamental grasses.  When planted amongst perennials and loosely pruned shrubs, they give the garden wonderful texture and movement.  They’re also great at linking plants, acting as a neutral foil to colourful flowers.

One of the most striking grasses at this time of year are Miscanthus varieties, which look fabulous with their silky silvery or burgundy plumes.  They make great companions to late summer perennials like asters, Anemone x hybrida ‘September Charm’ and salvias.   M. ‘Malepartus’ is statuesque while M. ‘Ferner Osten’ or the lovely M. sinensis ‘Memory’ are smaller.

Designers’ favourite Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ is a lovely upright grass with bright green foliage in the spring followed by fluffy flowers that turn to straw-coloured seedheads in late summer.  They look great with tall perennials like Verbena bonariensis.   But there are lots of other varieties of this grass, such as Calamagrostis brachytricha and C. ‘Waldenbuch’ which have a more splayed airy habit.  Other popular grasses include the small silky Stipa tennuissima and giant Stipa gigantea ‘Gold Fontaene’, with oaty seedheads rising up to 2m - Stipa gigantea ‘Goldilocks’ is a lesser-known smaller alternative.

Airy perennials that work well with grasses include Dianthus carthusianorum, lovely with the hazy moorgrass Molinia caerulea.  Roses such as bright pink R. Gertrude Jekyll, white ‘Jane Austen’ or dusky R. ‘Munstead Wood’ look modern and meadowy underplanted with ephemeral grasses like delicate Briza media or Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau.’ 

Some grasses such as molinia, deschampsia or low growing hakonechloa macra can cope with dappled shade, but most grasses like a sunny spot with well-drained soil and look wonderful where the sun can shine through their seedheads turning them gloriously golden.  What’s more, their architectural seedheads provide attractive structure throughout the winter.