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Seeing Out The Year With Grasses


By AndrewR


With meadow and prairie planting in fashion just now, I thought it might be useful to look at how some grasses are performing at the end of December in my garden here in Berkshire.

The weather has been dry for a few weeks now, and not too windy. Although we had a long mild spell, the last few days have been cold and frosty, often with overnight fog.

Stipa tenuissima has performed well, although some of the seedheads on the long stems are beginning to be shed now

Stipa ichu (also sold as jarava ichu) is larger and looks better as a specimen plant. Allow for a spread of a couple of feet. This does well in hot, dry conditions, and is useful for filling gaps left by early perennials such as poppies after they have flowered

Molinia caerulea ‘Moorhexe’ forms a stiffly upright column of foliage two to three feet tall

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ has a similar habit, but is taller at around four to five feet. This needs a more sheltered position as the tall stems are more likely to be damaged by strong winds. It also needs regular dividing to keep the clumps small as large masses of low foliage form a fountain at ground level, spoiling the effect. I am using a row of them to form a semi transparent screen at the back of a border

Panicum virgatum ‘Rehbraun’ starts upright, but tends to flop around by mid autumn. But the basal foliage takes on tints of red so it has a bit of autumn colour to add

I get more seedlings of uncinia unciniata in my garden than any other grass, although not enough to be a nuisance. I find this useful for fillings small gaps along the front of borders, especially among hot colour flowers. Probably best to replace it with a new plant after about three years as the colour is better in youngesters

Chasmanthium latifolium, the North American Wild Oats or Spangle Grass, is another upright grower, typically to four feet. The leaf blades are broader, the stems pretty resilient to wind, and the seedheads quite large and distinct; one website describes them as “diamond shaped flattened spikes.” This forms a neat clump, but the older it gets, the more difficult it is to divide as the roots make a wiry mass.

Another grass with distinctive seedheads is pennisetum alpecuroides ‘Hameln.’ This needs to be a decent sized clump to make a reasonable impression; the one in my photo was a division this spring, so still a youngster

Finally, another form of pannicum virgatum, this is ‘Heavy Metal.’ It has a definite blue tinge to the foliade as the season progresses, before bleaching to brown in later autumn. About three feet tall, but the seedheads look effective against the sky if you can manage to see them like that

I grow one or two other grasses as well, but they look a mess by now so I haven’t included them, but I hope this has given you some ideas if you want to include grasses in your borders.

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Yes, the grasses are valuable in the garden at this time of year.I too, took some pictures a couple days ago with frost on the seed heads!

30 Dec, 2016


Grasses have played an important part in our garden, long before they became fashionable, and if we had more room we would have even more!
When is the best time to split the Chasmanthium Andrew?
Our top ten would be the Hakonchloa all varieties..........
Stipa Gigantea, Miscanthus Morning light and Cosmopolitan, Pennisetum Fireworks...Imperata Red Baron...tender......and Rubrum any of the Carex evergreen species.......
I can also recommend Designing with Grasses written by Neil Lucas, an excellent book for the beginner and the more experienced gardener....

31 Dec, 2016


DD - I would reckon to split any grass in the spring, once the soil has warmed up.
I have one hakonechloa so far, but plan to add one or two more next spring. I left out imperata as that has already been cut down (I started the spring tidy before Christmas when it was so mild), festuca glauca (my specimen in a pot is not happy), also sessleria autumnalis which looks good in the autumn but pretty disreputable by Christmas.
I have a book called Designing with Grasses, but is by Mike King and Piet Oudolf!

31 Dec, 2016


I like Piet Oudolf, I will take a look out for that one...our Festuca in the ground but is overdue for splitting, could do with a new one really! the Hakons are really worth growing, so easy! we started the big tidy early too, we usually leave it until after christmas, have been buying composted bark to cover the whole of the garden, expensive but well worth the effort.....

31 Dec, 2016


I have an, as yet, unnamed grass which is so tall and robust that it resembles a miniature bamboo forest! tall strong segmented stems in a mid-green which becomes a golden colour when dry. The snow piles up around it and the deer seem to enjoy it. Also have Festuca glauca established and use it (as you have done) to fill the area around spring bulbs. The natural biome has so many diffent grasses that I feel guilty for not cataloguing them and putting names to them... I have the same guilt about the autumn fungi! So many lovely things and not enough time to record them all.

31 Dec, 2016


Know the feeling Lori......

2 Jan, 2017


Its only in recent years that I've taken a liking to grasses but now I am hooked, part of it has to do with my age and the fact that I am having to make changes, the garden is not going to shrink and I have to plant with the future in my mind, grasses as said add structure and interest when others have died back.... Thankyou Andrew, an interesting and informative blog......

2 Jan, 2017


Thanks Andrew. This was interesting. I haven't noticed my Uncinia looking drab at all after three years, but I shall keep an eye on them for next winter and perhaps think about propogating it. I love it! One of my favourite bronzy grasses is my Carex testacea 'Prairie Fire'. It's not as deeply coloured as the Uncinia, but the shape of it is wonderful!

4 Jan, 2017

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