Many of you have asked if we can increase our range of ornamental grasses in the garden centre – so I'm pleased to tell you that we have. In fact we've gone very grassy!
Ornamental grasses have been popular and well used in the U.S. for many years but their presence in gardens in Europe has largely been attributed to the Dutch gardener, Piet Oudolf. His whole style of gardening, using soft swathes of grasses and perennials has been named prairie planting and he makes great use of soft, loose plantings which fully develop over summer and into autumn.
For us Mediterranean gardeners, I think one of the best things about this style of planting is that it melds so seamlessly into the campo – like the outside coming inside with a little more order, but the wildness is still there. Grasses are great because there are so many and I love their swaying and flowing movements, jostling lightly against their neighbours. According to selection they can be used for screening, blending together other plantings, they are lovely in pots and they also make great focal points. In fact their richness and variation means that they can be used almost anywhere.
For us busy gardeners another great advantage they have is that they are extremely easy care – cut them down in very early spring, to about 15cm, and that is as onerous as it gets! Most will become very drought resistant and pests leave them alone. It doesn't get much easier does it?So, if you're feeling tempted, here are some of the best:
Pennisetum, fountaingrass: This mounding grass takes its common name from its graceful arching sways of foliage and plumes. They come with either green or bronzed foliage and the furry plumes can be creamy blonde, pink, red or coffee coloured. Some self-seed freely and, in parts of the world, have become classed as invasive. Ranging in height from 1m to 2m, they are one of the loveliest.
Festucaglauca, blue fescue: This is one of the smallest ornamental grasses, to around 30cm tall, and is, therefore, ideal for smaller spaces, in pots, as low groundcover or try it as an edging plant. The new foliage is a striking steely-blue with matching silvery-blue plumed flower heads. It is the bluest of the grasses and a lovely contrast plant. It colours up best under dry conditions, so ideal for us. Space plants 20cm apart for dense ground cover which will become very drought resistant.
Stipatenuissima, pony tails grass or feather grass:A very refined and beautiful grass, its bright green foliage erupts upwards and soft blonde and feathery seed heads mass and froth in waves. These can be cut and used indoors but they are also much appreciated by the birds. To around 60cm tall and 30cm wide, it develops better in a slightly damper ground than many other grasses but will become drought tolerant when mature.
Carexis botanically a sedge rather than a grass, but it is always loosely grouped with grasses. They are tough and versatile plantings andthere are some very striking ones.
Carexbuchananii'red rooster', New Zealand leatherleaf sedge. With rich copper-bronze foliage which curls at the tips, this is one of the most popular grasses. It will grow to around 60cm x 60cm and starts into growth tightly vertical, opening up into a vase shape with dark blonde plumes.
Carexcomans, 'bronze perfection', New Zealand hair sedge. The finely textured foliage fluctuates between coral and orange, according to the light. The large dark brown plumes produced in late summer contrast perfectly. To 40cm high x 75cm wide, clumping.
Carexmorrowii'ice dance', Japanese or variegated sedge. This grass has long shiny leaves markedly striped with bright white and looks good at any time of the year. It brightens up any shady spot, unusually, preferring to be out of the sun. It spreads slowly to form good dense groundcover. 30cm high x 50cm wide.
The flowing locks of grasses contrast perfectly with spikey architectural shapes such as yucca, dracaena, phormium, agave and aloe but if you want to continue the softer look, try mixing some of these perennials in with your grasses. The colours will swirl and mix, rather like ice cream!
Verbena bonariensis(purpletopvervain),gauralindheimeri (whirling butterflies), sedum spectabile(ice plant, butterfly plant) salvia nemerosa(woodland sage),salvia mycrophylla(blackcurrant sage),echinaceapurpurea(purple coneflower),rudbeckiafulgida(orange coneflower), coreopsis (tickflower), gaillardia (blanket flower),papaver(poppy),nepetamussinii(catmint) andtulbaghiaviolacea(sweet garlic).
Lorraine Cavanagh has lived in Spain for 26 years. A landscape gardener and writer, she's always happy to give advice. Call and see her at ViverosFlorena, 2km from Cómpeta, (Malaga), down the Sayalonga Road, or 15km up from the coastal motorway – have a free coffee in their tea-rooms.
Her book Lorraine Cavanagh's Mediterranean Garden Plantshas been nicknamed 'the bible'. The new edition at €24.90 is now generally available throughout Spain.
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