Choosing Grasses For Your Garden – It is important to choose the right grasses for a particular effect. Clump-forming upright growers, such as varieties of Calamagrostis, will preside over lower-growing plants but lose all impact if crowded by plants of equal height. More open grasses, such as Paricum virgatum with loose flower and seed heads, can be used with taller perennials because of their almost transparent quality.
Color is important, too. If you grow the luminous green Milium effusum ‘Aureum’ in front of a bed next to the lawn, it will simply look like another bit of green grass. Choose the blue grass Festuca glauca instead, ant it will contrast will contrast with the lawn grass very effectively.
Festuca glauca ‘Elijah blue’
Grasses by the sea
Almost all grasses are invaluable grown in coastal or seaside gardens . Their ethereal quality seems to match that of the sea; they can cope well with wind and salt spray and are at home in a sandy and pebbly environment. The taller ones can be used for structure, the smaller ones for foliage, color and for filling gaps.
Grasses in the mixed border
Many mixed borders will benefit from grasses grown among the shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Stipa gigantea is useful because its pale yellow stems and flowers make a significant shape but it is sparse enough for other plants to be seen through it. Its pale straw-like color goes well with many of the later summer flowers such as Echinaceae purpurea, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Echinops and Aster amellus ‘King George’.
Low-growing grasses look good at the front of mixed borders. Choose the tufted ones that build up slowly from a central crown. Festuca glauca ‘Elijah blue’ is evergreen and has vivid blue, needle-like leaves and blue-gray plumes of flowers in early summer.
Vigorous, creeping grasses are not suitable for borders. Phalaris arundinacea, for example, will simply smother weaker plants growing nearby and will require endless weeding.
Grasses in winter borders
When many flowers have died down for the winter, the grasses can come into their own, keeping a border alive when it has lost its summer and fall color. They can look spectacular when caught by a heavy frost so that their seed heads and leaves are outlined with a sugar icing coating.
Taller grasses associate well with the sea hollies such as Eryngium agavifolium, whose seed heads continue to be attractive in winter. In a large border the larger grasses look great with the seed heads of cardoons (Cynara cardunculum).
Grasses for paved areas and patios
Some of the smaller grasses are suitable for growing between paving slabs. Purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) has slender green upright leaves, which form into mounds with open panicles of purple flowers in summer. It will tolerate acidic, boggy soils, so can be used near pools.
For a warm patio area try Helictotrichon sempervirens in a bed sheltered by a wall. Its slender blue leaves are upright and radiate stiffly so it looks suitably architectural next to a building.
Areas dedicated to grass
If you have enough space, you might like to have a grass garden, creating your own area of American prairie. Varieties of Cortaderia and Miscanthus make a striking display. They are best grown in an open position where they will get the benefit of sun on their foliage and flowers and the wind will set them swaying.