More than Just a Lawn

Grass – it’s one of the most common elements of any garden style, be it as a simple filler or part of a practical play space, or even an all-encompassing border to divide different plants types. The majority of gardeners will recognise its basic application – the lawn and, although this institution is fast being overrun by installation of paving, decking and gravel, it is still among the most frequent sights in the British garden.

However, as any horticulturalist will tell you, grass has many a greater application than simple green space, and today’s topic centres around those applications. Today we discuss ornamental grasses and many of these you’ll be familiar with – Bamboo, for example, is basically just a big grass!

But with regard to ornamental grasses, the importance of appropriate positioning cannot be overstated and so below you’ll find five cultivars for each position, based on the amount of sunlight they will require to grow.

Sunny spots

picture of Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’

Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ – 

first of all we have the Festuca glauca, whose ‘Elijah Blue’ variety will form a hedgehog-like dome, punctuated by electric blue spires when provided with moist, but well-drained surroundings.

picture of Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’

Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ – 

in complete contrast this cultivar, otherwise known as Cogan grass, will form dramatic, plum-red clumps in moist, clay based-soil.

picture of Miscanthus sinensis‘Morning Light’

Miscanthus sinensis‘Morning Light’ – 

this grass is reared more for its shape and size than colour – the deep green lances will grow independently in full sun and each will be a sight on their own to observe. Make sure though that their soil is well drained and whatever the location, that the grass isn’t north facing.

picture of Pennisetum villosum

Pennisetum villosum – 

evergreen grass, otherwise known as the ‘Feathertop’ for its whitish-green, fluffy flowering heads in summer which turn purple with age. Plant it in moist, but well-drained soil.

picture of Stipa gigantea

Stipa gigantea – 

finally on the sunny front, we have Stipa gigantea which, as its name suggests is a tall, arching, clump forming semi-evergreen that will tolerate most soil types and locations within the garden. They are also surprisingly hardy given their shape and will tolerate an area of little or no shelter. In fact, depending on your location in the country, it may also be a regular staple in local fields and woodland areas.

Shade soakers:

picture of Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’

Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ – 

this is an excellent shade dweller, with a slender arch-forming habit, red to brown flowers and green leaves through spring and summer, which will then turn a golden brown in autumn and winter. This evergreen cultivar prefers well-drained, acidic soils and, exposure be damned, it has been rated as H4 and so it hardly matters which direction the plant faces.

picture of Luzula nivea

Luzula nivea – 

an evergreen, clump-forming perennial with an offering of white blooms in the summer – can survive in low fertility soil with good drainage.

picture of Millium effusum ‘Aureum’

Millium effusum ‘Aureum’ – 

this is a real beauty, with dramatic, strap shaped golden foliage with a hint of green. Though they are slow to spread, their impression in the garden is definitely worth the wait. Fortunately, they’ll tolerate pretty much any soil consistency, any level of exposure and can face in any direction.

picture of Ophiopogon planiscarpus ‘Nigrescens’

Ophiopogon planiscarpus ‘Nigrescens’ – 

this black ‘grass’ is an excellent addition to the colour palette of a garden, as they are one of the darkest hues and are therefore perfect for offsetting brightly coloured blooms in your garden. In beds, or pots of three, they can also add a tone of formality to a garden. It prefers an acidic and well-drained soil, facing in any direction but north.

picture of Uncina rubra

Uncina rubra – 

last but not least, consider this little beauty, which in pictures may be reminiscent of a pheasant’s plumage, often a rich blood red speckled with black and ginger. Fortunately they are evergreen too and so you’ll be able to enjoy this during the winter season, even if not the pheasants themselves. The only thing to remember about growing this plant is – you guessed it – a well-drained soil, as it will tolerate most other conditions.

I hope this list has been informative about the possibilities that you may have been missing when considering the role that grass can play in your garden.

By Josh Ellison

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