Designing with grasses
We are not garden designers, but we have a good eye for which plants go well together. Also we have seen many examples of grasses being used in some wonderful gardens. Added to that we can advise on the best growing conditions for particular grasses.
For sometime articles in gardening magazines and TV programmes gave the impression ornamental grasses should be planted in dedicated areas with gravel as a mulch. This style of planting can be very effective, but depending on the size of plants they can be used in pots and mixed borders.
Small ornamental grasses (this includes grasses and sedges) in gravel, pots or front of borders look good for a while they may become 'tired' and require attention i.e splitting and tidying up.
The page on small grasses shows some good examples.
Carex osimensis 'Fiwhite' (v) [left] is a popular sedge and looks well in a pot or front of border. Luzula sylvatica 'Aurea' [right] is a wood rush. Its colour intensifies as temperatures fall and it works well in mixed planting.
Most true grasses are deciduous and there is a lengthly period in Spring and early Summer when there is little or nothing to see.
If you are keen to have deciduous grasses in gravel one well tried stategy is to plant spring bulbs with short or relatively short stems amongst them to provide interest while you are waiting for the new growth to appear in the Spring.
A more effective technique is to plant grasses with perennials and a few shrubs in mixed beds or borders. You have the option of grasses supported by a few perennials and small woody shrubs or herbaceous and woody plants with a few tall grasses to provide structure. Tall grasses stand well in late autumn and through the winter. They can be the stars of the show. We suggest you consider five genera: Miscanthus, Molinia, Panicum, Calamagrostis and Stipa. Details of their characteristics are outlined on the following pages.
Piet Oudolf, famous for his mixed planting schemes, has a formula that is a effective both in large and small settings. He usually works on very large projects, but a scaled down garden he did inside a temporary pavilion in Kensington Gardens in 2011 was fascinating.
The professional interior designers who took us to see the building explained that in previous years the public had just walked straight through the architects' creations. Piet's planting had a subliminal effect on people who lingered, sat on the benches provided and socialised.
On large scale projects he works to a formula of 90 different perennials, 22 different types of grasses and 6 different shrubs. On a small scale 15 different perennials, 4 grasses and 1 shrub.
Our large grasses range in height from 1.5m [5 ft] to 2.7m [9ft]. People can be very conventional and even a bit rigid in their thinking when it comes to the use of tall plants in their gardens.
We work hard to convince them that even in the modest area in the right situation a few striking specimens can look fantastic. The picture shows Gail examining Miscanthus sinensis 'Grosse Fontane' in our drive in September.
Grasses break the "golden rule"
It is important to remember that as well as bringing movement and sound to a garden most grasses do not present a solid barrier to the eye. For this reason the "golden rule" that all the tall plants should be towards the back of border does not apply when using grasses.
The diaphanous nature of many grasses becomes apparent when a photographer tries to capture their images. Deschampsia cespitosa cvs. in the mixed borders outside the entrance to The National Trust garden at Nymans in Surrey are stunning in the autumn.
Jeni Cairns of Juniper House Designs, Peterborough incorporated our grasses in her show gardens at Harrogate in autumn 2011 and 2013. Her "Artisan's Garden" built around the mock up of railway wagon converted into a garden shed was awarded best in show in 2013.
Finding suitable grasses
If you are planning to use grasses and you are unsure what to buy, it may be worth visiting Westshores and discussing your ideas with us. If you are too far away email us or phone [01724 733940] or .
Ornamental grasses en masse in a nursery can be off putting. Rather than confront you with a sea of stock and leave you to it, we suggest you arrive with a few details:
1. Size of the bed and type of soil [free draining or clay etc]
2. Aspect [which direction does the bed face and is it in any shade for all or part of the day?]
We will leave you with a portfolio of pictures of gardens and images of individual grasses. Stocks permitting we will source the grasses which take your fancy.
Click here for a list of grasses in stock.
Our grasses list has details of the plants we have in reasonable numbers at the time of going to press. We have many others in small quantities, but you will need to ask us