Ornamental grasses can play a part in most gardens, from providing calming accompaniments to more colourful flowering plants to being the sole focus of the design. There are grasses for damp or dry soil, shady as well as sunny situations. Many are great to add to the cutting garden; others perform well in containers.
Cultivation: ornamental grasses tolerate a wide range of conditions, but most like a sunny position in light, moist but well-drained, moderately fertile soil. They do not need much feeding; this can encourage lush foliage at the expense of flowers. One application of a balanced fertiliser in spring is adequate.
Planting: It's important to plant grasses at the correct time. Grasses from cool climates such as Deschampsia, Festuca, Helictotrichon and Stipa come into growth in late winter and flower before mid-summer and so should be planted in autumn for the best establishment. Grasses from warm climates such as Miscanthus, Panicum, Pennisetum and Spartina come into growth in late spring, flower after mid-summer and are usually cut back in late winter. They are best planted in late spring.
Container cultivation: Grasses are good plants for containers. Use loam-based compost, such as John Innes No 2 with 20% loam-free compost to lighten the mix. Evergreen grasses such as Carex combine well with winter bedding to give height and a contrast in texture.
An especially showy colourful New Zealand native, 'Firedance' enlivens the garden with its grassy, evergreen, compact tussocks of shiny maroon foliage. The strap-shaped leaves are borne on slowly expanding clumps of short red-brown stems that are triangular in cross section. In summer, clusters of brown flowers appear, followed by attractive black seed-heads.
A wonderful mahogany-red sedge grass, which makes nice clumps of foliage. Ideal Conditions: Prefers full sun, or partial shade with free-draining, but moist soil or compost. Possible Situation: The versatility of the grasses allow them to be placed in nearly any situation, from being in a container, basket, or raised bed, to being in the border or rockery.