Not Always Greener

red-flowered miscanthus grass
The flower heads of this miscanthus are like crazy red fireworks!

Late summer and autumn can be a great time for grasses in the garden. Some change colours around this time and there’s an amazing variety of flower and seed heads which add texture and interest to garden borders.

Grasses can give a lovely ‘natural’ look to a garden and help to create a relaxed atmosphere, especially when they’re grown with the other plants that are at their best at this time of year – rudbekias, echinacea, heleniums and asters are the obvious ones. (The slightly ‘wild’ look that many daisies have makes them ideal companions for grasses.)

Chasmanthus latifolium
The flat heads of this chasmanthus are a lovely coppery colour

The natural look of grasses can create a problem because they don’t look right with many of the more traditional plants. Hybrid roses, for instance and many of the double-flowered plants (like clematis).

In my own garden, the solution has been to create different areas. (Not that easy because it’s not a very big garden.) In one area, the planting is what I’d describe as ‘modern cottage-garden’, with a wide mixture of flowering plants, including roses and clematis, small shrubs, herbs, and bigger plants such as lilac, wisteria, philadelphus, viburnum and hydrangeas. The other area is beside the site for my in-progress pond. (Still digging!) This is where the planting will be much more informal. The perennials in this area are generally taller. I have the little yellow sunflower, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and Japanese anemones here, as well as crocosmias – all of which can be very thuggish. So the plants going into this border will need to be vigorous enough to make their own claim on some space without letting themselves be crowded out. (And there may need to be quite a bit of interference from me to ensure fair play!)

Grass flower-heads
Grass heads like these add a lot of texture to a border

When I was a kid, I was very attracted to the textures of grass heads and loved to run them through my fingers. (Sometimes stripping off the seeds – I must have spread a few plants around that way!) This tactile quality of grasses helps to make the garden a more inviting place. Somewhere that you can touch the plants, feel them in your fingers and become involved with them – not just somewhere that you look at from a distance.

If you look at them closely, grasses, especially the flower heads, can have a lot of detail. They can be delicate and airy, bold and attention-grabbing, brightly-coloured or subtle, and some have a slightly metallic sheen to them. They are wonderful when they are back-lit by the low light of autumn, even more so if there’s a spider’s web sparkling with dew-drops suspended from the leaves.

Grasses, like other plants, are a reason to spend time in a garden: time just looking and enjoying the detail. There’s a quote from writer Henry Miller that is particularly appropriate here, ‘The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself’.

Do you enjoy the details of plants? Does anything particularly catch your eye? I’d love to know in the comments!

Panicum virgatum
The delicate heads of Panicum virgatum