August - Plant of the Moment

From dainty Blue Fescue Grass to majestic Miscanthus, ornamental grasses provide texture, character and form unmatched by many other hardy perennials. Their presence develops through the seasons as bright and colourful foliage is joined by graceful swaying flower heads that last well into winter.

In large borders grasses can be planted in bold groups or striking drifts, but many varieties perform well in large patio pots, positioned where their individual shape and arching form can be fully appreciated. Popular grasses for pots include compact Blue Fescue Grass and Slender Sweet Flag ‘Ogon’, or taller varieties of Miscanthus such as the Zebra Grass (Miscanthus ‘Zebrinus’).

From green to gold, purple to a host of patterned and variegated forms, ornamental grasses come in a wide range of colours, sizes and growing habits. As well as selecting grasses to suit your colour scheme always consider their other qualities, positioning grasses close to paths and seating areas so you can run your hands over their feathery foliage and flowers as you pass. Popular grasses for tactile displays in sensory gardens include the Feathertop Grass (Pennisetum) or annual grasses like Bunny Tails.

Taller grasses also add movement to otherwise static displays, catching a summer breeze to add interest and catch the eye. Growing to around two metres in height, the bold form of Golden Oats (Stipa gigantea) is a real showstopper! Or if space allows, try planting a statuesque clump of Pampas Grass, and enjoy their feathery plumes right into winter.

Ornamental grasses offer great value, and these popular Plants of the Moment produce long-lasting displays in any garden. Large individuals have a real presence, taking pride of place in beds and borders, while colourful planting combinations can be created with flowering perennials like Black-eyed Susan, Coneflowers and Ice Plants.

Top four ornamental grasses

Many great grasses are available that have received an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society. Here are some of the most popular:

Festuca  - such as Blue Fescue Grass (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’)

Pennisetum – such as Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Summer Samba’)

Miscanthus – such as Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’)

Stipa – such as Giant Golden Oats (Stipa gigantea)

Top tips for planning and planting

  1. Be generous and plant grasses in drifts or bold groups rather than as lonely individuals.
  2. Some large potted grasses can be divided into two or three pieces at planting time, each with roots and shoots attached.
  3. Grasses grow well in patio pots, but make sure tall varieties are planted in large, heavy pots to prevent them blowing over in strong winds.
  4. Line terracotta pots with plastic from old compost bags to help conserve moisture.
  5. The tops of some perennial, like miscanthus, die over winter. Promptly cut away all old growth to avoid damaging new shoots that start emerging in early spring.
  6. Many ornamental grasses can be raised from seed. Annual grasses like Bunny Tails (Lagurus ovatus), Greater Quaking Grass (Briza maxima), Feathertop (Pennisetum villosum), Purple Millet (Pennisetum ‘Purple Majesty’), and Squirrel Tail Grass (Hordeum jubatum) as well as perennial grasses like Stipa tenuissima can be grown from spring sown seeds.

Other popular ornamental grasses

  • Slender Sweet Flag ‘Ogon’ (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’)
  • Arundo donax
  • Calamagrostis
  • Carex
  • Cortaderia (Pampas Grass)
  • Deschampsia
  • Festuca
  • Hakonechloa
  • Hordeum
  • Imperata
  • Millium
  • Miscanthus
  • Oryza
  • Panicum
  • Pennisetum
  • Sorghum
  • Stipa

Planting partners for ornamental grasses

Ornamental grasses fit into many different planting designs, but few better than the prairie planting style made popular by garden designer and plantsman Piet Oudolf. Here are just a few suggestions of great planting companions for ornamental grasses.

  • Achillea
  • Asters
  • Astrantia
  • Bergamot (Monarda didyma)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’)
  • Centaurea
  • Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’
  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Gaura lindheimeri
  • Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’
  • Herb Fennel
  • Ice Plant (Sedum spectabile and other varieties)
  • Liatris spicata
  • Macedonian Scabious (Knautia macedonica)
  • Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’
  • Turkish Sage (Phlomis russeliana)

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