Using grasses in the garden

Learn more about using grasses in the garden with award winning garden owner, Geoff Stonebanks.

Carex testacea
Carex testacea
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Whether you have a coastal garden like me, or a more conventional plot, the use of ornamental grasses can play a significant part in your planting schemes. Not only can they provide a calming accompaniment to the more colourful flowering plants you might desire, they can also be the sole focus of your creation. There are many to choose from for all conditions and many perform well in containers too. If you have the winds to contend with, they will also tolerate a wide range of conditions, which is especially fortunate in my coastal plot, but most grasses do like a sunny position.  An added bonus for most gardeners is that they do not need much feeding.

Favourite grasses

Luzula nivea ‘Snowy Woodrush’
Luzula nivea ‘Snowy Woodrush’

Here are a few of the favourites I have come to love in my own garden.

Luzula nivea ‘Snowy Woodrush’ is a slow-spreading, evergreen perennial that forms loose clumps of rough, deep green leaves. In early and midsummer sprays of pure white, tuft-like flowers appear that last for several weeks and it works really well in my shaded gravel bed at the back of the garden but would work equally as well planted in amongst some colour too.

Another stunning grass growing on the central path in the garden is this Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’. It’s a clump forming compact deciduous perennial grass, suitable for growing in borders or containers. It grows well in sun or shade; its colour will vary according to the light conditions. In the shade, the leaves take on a lime green colour and in full sun it is creamy gold, with reddish pink tints in autumn. I’ve had it now for several years and it never disappoints.

Phalaris arundinacea
Phalaris arundinacea

A few years ago I was given a grass and found it to be Phalaris arundinacea var. picta or more commonly known as gardener’s garters. It’s a vigorous perennial grass forming an extensive colony of erect stems to 60cm tall, bearing narrow leaves boldly striped with white, pale and dark green, and narrow, pale green flowering panicles in summer. It can go a bit wild, but in my beach garden, this is exactly what I wanted as it copes so well with the strong winds that we get here on the coast. It also looks amazing growing up through the gravel and with Verbena rigida ‘Polaris’ poking through too.

Carex testacea (orange New Zealand sedge) is a really lovely grass for the border, container or gravel bed. From spring to autumn the pale olive-green leaves of this ornamental grass turn a warm coppery-orange. In midsummer it bears small, brown flower spikes.

Stipa tenuissima
Stipa tenuissima

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ is a lovely grass that would work equally as well in the border or as here in the beach gravel garden at Driftwood. It is a compact deciduous perennial with narrow leaves finely edged with white, and pink-tinged panicles of flowers in autumn. It gives some height to the planting too.

Finally, without doubt, my favourite grass of all, is the incredibly tactile Stipa tenuissima or Mexican feather grass, also called pony tails grass. It is so nice to have it close to the path so its arching, folded or rolled, linear leaves and narrow panicles can caress you as you brush past it. If you’ve not tried these lovely grasses why not give them a go in your garden this summer.

Geoff Stonebanks

About Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks lives in Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex and spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden - Driftwood - he has raised over £95,000 for various charities in 8 years, £56,000 of that for Macmillan. The garden, which first opened to the public in 2009 has featured on BBC2 Gardeners' World, Good Morning Britain and in many national and local media publications. In his spare time, Geoff is also the National Garden Scheme's Social Media & Publicity Chair as well as an Assistant County Organiser & Publicity Officer in East & Mid Sussex.
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