Ornamental grasses – add an extra dimension to the garden
Ornamental grass is coming into its own as a decorative element. It brings movement, sound and texture into the garden, elements that are not readily found in most other garden plants.
Grasses blend with every garden style from indigenous and contemporary to Mediterranean, French and English country garden. Above all, it is a low maintenance plant that always looks good.
Besides its aesthetic appeal, most grass is heat tolerant, winter hardy and has the ability to grow in both sun and shade. Grasses are also adaptable and can grow in poorer soils better than many other garden plants.
Grasses come in many heights, colours, and textures and can be used as groundcovers, specimen plants, for erosion control, and as vertical design elements. They can also be combined with shrubs and perennials like Daylilies, Rudbeckia, Coreopsis, Agapanthus, Bearded Irises, and indigenous Irises, Dietes grandiflora.
Besides the ever popular Mondo grass, there are other low to medium high grasses that are compact in their growth habit and suitable for small to medium gardens.
An indication of their growing popularity is the number of new varieties that are becoming available to gardeners.
One of these is Isolepis cernua ‘Live Wire’. It grows well in a pot indoors as well as in mixed plantings outdoors, especially in wet areas along ponds and in water gardens. The soft green leaves are tipped with flower spikes that resemble fibre optic strands.
Luzula is another new perennial grass for use in containers and mixed borders. Luzula ‘Lucius’ can be planted in semi shade and produces loose tufts of light green leaves with 'off white' flower clusters, about 15cm above the foliage. If grows 40cm high, with a 60cm spread.
Luzula ‘Starmaker’ has glossy, broad deep green leaves and it grows into a large tussock, with flowers in early spring 10-20cm above the foliage. It reaches a garden height of 50cm with a 40cm spread. It is drought tolerant, and can grow in sun or semi shade in most kinds of soil.
Carex is one of the most popular and hard working ornamental grasses. It is low growing and thrives in moist, well drained soil and in full sun. Mostly 30cm high by 30cm wide, it forms tussocks or mounds and its foliage is usually bronze or bronze red.
It is effective if planted in large drifts in the garden (creating a wave effect), or alone in a container as an accent plant, especially the taller and more spreading varieties. The dwarf varieties can be used as an edging or border for beds.
There are four new varieties to look out for; Carex ‘Red Rooster’ is red bronze, upright growing with curled tips, Carex ‘Amazon Mist' forms a hanging tussock with milk green on green reverse leaves, Carex ‘Bronco’ is mid brown-bronze, and Carex ‘Bronzita’ is a mid brown bronze, that grows in to semi erect tussocks, about 40cm high with a 35cm spread.
The most unusual Carex is ‘Frosted Curls’ which has 30cm high dense grey tufts and forms a low growing hedge.
Festuca is another perennial grass for use in containers and landscapes. It is distinguished by its blue grey leaves and it forms low tufts, 15 to 20cm high. It mostly likes full sun but there is a variety that prefers semi shade.
The dwarf varieties make excellent edges and the taller varieties are effective as a back drop in a mixed bed. Do not underestimate the stunning effect of a single plant in a container.
A variety that grows well in semi-shade is the dwarf Festuca scoparia ‘Hobbit’, which has bright evergreen, prickly needle like blades.
A new release is Festuca ‘Festina’ which has blue green foliage that forms dense clumps with upright flower panicles. It has a spread of 20 cm and a height of 15cm with the flowering heads reaching up to 25cm.
Juncus is a perennial comes in a wide variety of leaf shapes and can also be used for edgings, borders and as accent plants.
Two unusual varieties to look out for are Juncus filiformis ‘Spiralis’ which has corkscrew like twisted leaves and a garden height of 20cm while Juncus patens ‘Carmen Grey’ has steel grey evergreen, cylindrical leaves, and is 50cm high.
Koeleria is also known as Blue Hair Grass. It grows well in sandy soil and can be used as a contrasting border for flower beds.
A recent introduction is Koeleria ‘Coolio’ which produces tufts with greenish blue foliage. It has semi broad linear leaves and a 50cm flower height.
Pennisetum alopecuriodes has narrow dark green cascading leaves with arching flowers like water pouring down a fountain. It has a garden height of 80cm and should be grown in full sun.
Pennisetum alopecuriodes var viridescens is lower growing (50cm) but has broader leaves and darker heads.
Treat grasses like other perennials and divide in spring when the clumps become too large. Herbaceous grasses can be cut down in spring to encourage new growth while evergreen grasses just need a tidy up.
Use hedge shears and wear gloves to prevent cuts from the razor-sharp edges of some species.
Few pests bother grasses. If aphids or mites appear, spray with a strong stream of water to control the problem. Most grasses can benefit from mulching.
Grass varieties can be obtained from local garden centres. For more information phone the BallStraathof customer care line: 0861-blossom (or 0861-256776) or email .