Small ornamental grasses
In this category we are refering to plants under 1 metre in height. By 'small ornamental grasses' we include true grasses, sedges and grass-like plants.
Click here for list of grasses in stock.
Many of them look well in gravel, in mixed planting at the front of a border or in pots and raised beds. In September 2015 at the NCCPG Plant Fair Harlow Carr we noticed drifts of small grasses and sedges had been planted in the beds near to our stall. A year on the effect should be stunning.
Carex oshimensis 'Evergold' (v) AGM
Fine deep green leaves with creamy yellow stripes form attractive clumps. Brown flower spikes appear in April and June.
Just behind our stall is a well established mass of small Molinia.
Molinia caerulea ssp caerulea 'Moorhexe'
Clumps of grey-green upright leaves and narrow densely packed stems with purplish-green flower spikes in August about 1 metre in height. The stems disintegrate in late autumn.
Grasses for shady areas
Most true grasses prefer full sun and moist well drained soil. Deschampsia cespitosa cvs will cope where sunlight is a little limited.
Deschampsia cespitosa cvs. [especially 'Goldschleier'] is wonderful dotted in mixed borders or mass planted in drifts.
Deschampsia flexuosa is becoming a favourite of many garden designers. They flower relatively early and change colour in mid summer.
Evergreen woodrushes are useful in partially shaded spots. Luzula sylvatica 'Aurea' is an excellent choice because its yellow-green leaves intensify in colour in winter as the temperature falls.
True grasses which flower as early as May are uncommon. Melica would be found flowering in the shady deciduous, woodland edge before trees take on their leaves.
We are gradually building a stock of a variegated form, which will be available in 2017.
Briza media and its cultivars produce a mass of tiny nodding lockets relatively early in the season.
This not to be confused with Briza maxima which is an annual with trembling fat spikelets about 2cm long in May to July. It dries well and is good in pots, but it will seed around.
Anemanthele lessoniana AGM
This grass is a favourite with parks departments and in a recent walk through the gardens on the Embankment, London we noticed it was used to good effect.
Formerly known as Stipa arundincea. For the best effect this grass should be grown in a sunny position in well drained soil. Good in a pot, gravel or mixed border growing to just under 1 metre in height. Olive green leaves with burnt orange highlights all year round. Flowers in autumn.
Angels' Hair - Stipa tenuissima
We took this photograph of the grass in August growing alongside vines at Terra Botanica near Angers, France. It has a tendancy to seed around, but it is dramatic planted in gravel, mixed borders and pots.
'Angels' Hair' is the common name given to it by French gardeners.
Tight clumps of evergreen, pale yellow-green leaves. Its arching flower heads are fluffy.
Our advice is do not cut it down in winter. In spring comb out the old flowering stems with a gloved hand.
Millium effusum 'Aureum'
Slow spreading bright golden yellow grass. Delicate rich, golden yellow spikelets in May to July. It grows well in partial shade where its leaves are less likely to be scorched by the sun.
Unwanted seedlings are easily removed. We think it looks stunning in a mixed border.
Perennial grass with narrow green arching leaves. It produces feathery soft green-white plumes aging to beige from early summer to autumn.
A slow grower, but very effective in gravel or growing close to the front of a border. Heavy rain pulls down the stems which quicky restored by drying sunshine.
Deciduous grass. Mound-forming with narrow dark green leaves. Attractive, soft, bristly, pale pink flowers like limp bottle brushes in mid to late summer.
Hardiness increases as the clump grows and matures. It should be planted near the front of a border or in a pot.
Densely tufted with narrow steely-blue leaves. Flower spikes in May to August.
It has a tendency to run in some soils and therefore more often than not is grown in pots.
Deciduous grass. In early eutumn long arching stems emerge from the foliage, which break into airy amethyst-pinkish flowers forming a misty cloud. Works well near the front of border, in gravel or a pot.
Planted with appropriate ornamental grasses gravel beds can be very effective. It is important to leave space between plants to show off their form and allow the gravel to work as a contrast.
This grass planted in groups of three looks stunning and its steely-blue colour holds even in alkaline soils. We think the flower stems detract from the form of the plants and remove them. Also we find Koeleria glauca retains its striking appearance if we split it every year or so.
Festuca glauca cvs. are evergreen blue-green grasses. They are happy in gravel beds, pots or front of border. After two or three seasons it is worth refreshing them by lifting in the spring and splitting. The dead middle should be discarded. Periodically in limey soils they welcome an ericaceous feed to maintain the blue colour.
Do not cut them down. Click here for more information
Carex - Sedges
Sedges are versatile and can be used effectively in gravel beds, front of borders and in containers. Young Carex comans cvs make a good centre piece for a newly planted summer hanging baskets. The brown, long leaved Carex flagellifera can be presented to best effect in a raised pot or urn where its will catch sunlight and shimmer.
It is important to remember they are not true grasses and do not welcome having their leaves cropped. Any leaves which have split or turned brown over winter should be cut out at the base.
If you are looking for a grass-like plant which stands out from the crowd this may fit the bill. It is good in a pot, gravel bed or border. In UK conditions it will seed very close to home and loves to find a niche.
Position is everything
Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra'
We advise caution when customers ask for this grass. It is perennial and relatively hardy, but in our experience it should be in very well drained soil. We suggest grit is put under its shallow roots. In North Lincolnshire it dies back in winter and can look on it last legs until temperatures rise. This picture of a clump growing successfully in a garden in Selby, North Yorkshire shows the advantage of careful positioning. Its back is to a warm south facing wall and the soil is well drained.
Hakenochloa macra cvs.
Often used in containers and on the edges of borders where the soft rich green or yellow green foliage falls gracefully and moves in the breeze. This grass likes a cool moist environment and is very happy in our climate. Suitable for ground cover, but it spreads relatively slowly.
We produce grasses to grow in pots. Some are annuals, a few are tender perennials and one or two must be contained because they are runners.
Each year we sow a trio of grasses specifically for pots: Briza maxima has much larger lockets than the perennial version: Agrostis montevidensis produces fine, silky gossamer flowers forming purple-pink clouds.; and Lagurus ovatus [Bunny Tails] has bristly, whitish-grey, soft solid flower plumes, which incidentally are good for drying.
Phalaris arundinacea cvs.
Commonly known as 'Gardeners' Garters' these grasses usually arrive as a 'gift' from a friend or neighbour. They have a propensity to run and give any variegated grasses a bad name.
Nevertheless they make attractive pot plants and have the ability to take cutting back once or twice a season and coming back refreshed as good as ever if watered and fed. French municipal horticulturalists use the cultivars extensively as a bedding plants to set off colourful blooms around them.
Dramatic but tender
Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'
We produce only 30 or 40 of these each year. For protection our stock plant lives in the house from October until May. Much sought after, but is a disappointment in the autumn when it dies becaue it will not survive below 7 degrees Celcius. Our magnificent specimen goes out into our courtyard in June. This picture was taken in Saffre near Nantes in August 2015. It is used for a dramatic effect extensively in street planting in France.