Grasses in your garden have four good seasons of interest: in spring, when the bright new shoots start emerging, in summer, when they are at their peak and flower in your garden , in autumn, when many turn yellow and reddish, and in winter, because they should be left standing, so that their shapes add interest until being cut down at the end of the season.
Festuca – The genus contains about 300 perennial grasses, which produce attractive tufts of foliage. They are ideal for placing at the front of borders or among rock garden plants. Festuca glauca, blue or grey fescue, is one of the most popular grasses. It is an evergreen species, which makes tufts of steely-blue leaves that are still evident in winter garden. The summer flowers are an added bonus. It can also be grown in containers. Festuca prefers moderately fertile, dry, well-drained soil in full sun.
Carex – Sedge is a large and important genus, containing about 1000 species, which are distinguished by their triangular stems.They are ideal bog garden plants, but some are also worth trying in mixed borders for their attractive mounds of leaves. Most are best in reliably moist soil in sun or light shade. Carex buchananii is an elegant, clump-forming evergreen with narrow copper-coloured leaves that turn towards orange in the winter. Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’ is an evergreen, compact hybrid, which makes dense clumps of narrow, pale green leaves that curl at the tips. C. c. ‘Snowline’ makes neat clumps of dark green leaves strikingly margined with white. This does well in ordinary garden soil and is useful for providing long-term interest at the front of a border; it is also effective in gravel. Carex flagellifera makes a clump of arching, bronze-brown leaves, which are an excellent foil to green, silver, or yellow leaved garden plants. It will grow in almost any soil.
Elymus – Wild rye or lyme grass is excellent as an infill in mixed or herbaceous borders. Grow these grasses in ordinary garden soil in sun or light shade. Elymus magellanicus is a clump-forming species, native to Chile and Argentina, and has spiky, steel-blue leaves. It is a good container plant.
Hakonechloa macra – This hardy Japanese grass is usually represented in gardens by the attractive cultivars ‘Aureola’, which has green-striped, yellow leaves, and ‘Alboaurea’, which has green, white and yellow leaves. The leaves of ‘Aureola’ are flushed with red in autumn. They are clump-forming garden plants, which makes rounded cushions of tapering foliage. Small flowers are borne in spikelets in summer and early autumn, and these persist into winter. It prefers a moisture-retentive soil in shade or part shade. It is one of the most attractive and versatile ornamental grasses, and is suitable for growing in containers on garden patios, in courtyard gardens, rock gardens , or at the front of a mixed or herbaceous border.
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’
Imperata – The six species of grass in the genus are grown for the beauty of their leaves rather than for their flowers, which appear only in areas with long hot summers. They make good foil to a range of flowering garden plants in mixed borders. Grow in any reasonable soil, preferably moisture-retentive, in sun or light shade. Remove the seed heads to prevent self-seeding (and reversion to plain green). Some winter protection – a dry mulch of straw, for instance – is advisable in very cold climates. Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ (syn. ‘Red Baron’), Japanese blood grass, is usually found in the form of this attractive cultivar, whose name refers to the red colouring that the leaves develop from the tip downwards.
Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’