IT’S hard to keep a border looking good through autumn and into winter. Once the perennials finish flowering, beds can feel bland and empty. Grasses solve that problem, and they can be planted now.
As well as being low-maintenance and reliable, they inject borders with grace and movement, via flower panicles that billow on the breeze, and wonderful colour once they take on their autumnal hues. Designers use them to create a naturalistic look, reminiscent of a meadow, and to ensure the garden is impressive during winter. Along with the architectural seedheads of perennials (such as globe thistle and phlomis), grasses endure through the cold months, providing fawn and golden tints and spellbinding when dusted with frost.
Key border grasses include feathery Miscanthus (such as ‘Dronning Ingrid’), bottlebrush-like Pennisetum (such as ‘Hameln’), elegant Calamagrostis (such as C. brachytricha), and upright Panicum (such as ‘Cloud Nine’). All provide structure, lightness and autumn colour.
For some gardeners, grasses earn their place by providing sound when the wind blows. Some of the best for this are the zebra grasses (such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’), which rustle on the breeze, and towering M. sacchariflorus, which has long, lush leaves on 10ft (3m)tall stems, creating an exotic jungle look.
If your priority is growing for wildlife, opt for native grasses and mix them with nectar-rich perennials (such as butterfly-friendly liatris, verbena and eupatorium). Specialist grass nursery Knoll Gardens sells a wide range of British grasses, such as Briza media, which produces a multitude of small flowerheads that shimmer on the breeze in the middle of the border. The sedge Carex elata ‘Aurea’ is a similar height, producing a clump of gold and green leaves, while at the back of the border, Deschampsia cespitosa is an airy cloud of blonde flowerheads and Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea forms an upright tower that glows honey-gold in autumn.
Other than needing to be cut back in spring, grasses are low-maintenance stalwarts – they work hard, performing in summer, autumn and winter, and create a beautiful naturalistic look.
9 grasses for borders
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ AGM
This feather-reed grass forms striking columns of vertical flower panicles that morph to straw blonde. A deciduous grass for well-drained soil in open, sunny borders. H: 5ft (1.5m).
Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ AGM
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