Getting to grips with grasses

In 2016 I want to get to grips with ornamental grasses. In particular, using them in mixed plantings  to achieve that blended, wispy look I see the pros doing so well at Chelsea Flower Show. After reading Planting in a Post Wild World, I’m especially interested in finding small ground cover grasses (or Carex) to weave through borders harmlessly.

This year so far I am growing…

  • Agrostis nebulosa (small grass) – from seed
  • Briza media (small grass) – from seed (sown last year)
  • Carex grayi (small grass like plant) – from seed
  • Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Pixie Fountain’ (small/medium grass) – from seed
  • Festuca amethystina (medium grass) – from seed
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ (medium/large grass) – bought as a plant
  • Pennisetum macrouruna ‘Tail Feather’ (medium grass) – from seed
  • Sorghastrum nutans (large grass) – arrived as seedlings grown by a friend
Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'
Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’

I’m still looking for a very small ground cover grass that spreads rather than clumps, without being too invasive. I think it will probably have to be a Carex. It needs to be something that can tolerate sun or shade and I’d like it to still have some light, airy flowers.

Last year I grew Lagurus ovatus, a truly beautiful little grass. A couple of years back we grew Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, also stunning but not hardy so treated as an annual.

The Briza media I grew from seed last spring with visions of a mini meadow in the middle of our border. Alas, they didn’t flower, so it just looked like I hadn’t weeded. Fingers crossed for this year, though I’m told Briza media can get rust really easily.

A number of the new seeds are germinating already and I’ll add more updates as they grow 🙂 As always, I’d love to hear any tips or advice because grasses are pretty new to me.

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

7 thoughts on “Getting to grips with grasses”

  1. Planting in a Post Wild World is a fantastic book, isn’t it? I’ve really enjoyed it, and am keeping it close to hand for tips and inspiration. Keen to see how you get on with your grasses, particularly how everything comes together from seed (I’ve been finding Briza a bit too successful in mixed wildflower plantings, it goes mental!).

    1. Yeah, I love Planting in a Post Wild World. It really has shaped some of my opinions, which is no mean feat for a book. I’d seen it around but it was your review that convinced me to buy it – so thank you 🙂 Thanks for the tip with Briza. I have to admit, I did wonder how to stop grasses self seeding all over the place because they grow from seed so readily.

  2. You’re right to think of the problems of self seeding of grasses, they can be a bit keen!
    Have you tried Luzula nivea? It’s clump forming but lovely airy flowers. Otherwise spend an hour or six on Knoll gardens website. Happy gardening.

    1. Hi Graham, I haven’t tried of Luzula nivea thanks for the tip I will look at that. I have been spending quite a lot of time on the Knoll gardens website 😀 it is fantastic. I’ve also got a book on grasses by the man who runs Knoll Gardens I think. Just wondering, are you the same Graham who has also written a book on grasses?

      1. Hi Jack, no I’m not a writer, though yet another namesake! That and the agricultural advisor to the Archers. I’m a gardener for a small estate in West Sussex.

        1. Ah, fantastic, that must be great working in West Sussex. I travel down to Brighton everyday for work and have been on holiday around there. I thought I’d better check because I keep putting my foot in it with other people – I’m still such amateur to all this 😀

          1. Oh I live in Brighton and commute to work each day. Don’t worry most gardening folks aren’t precious. Nature has a habit of humbling people!

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