Ornamental grasses: Stipa gigantea

Ornamental grasses: the best grasses to grow

Rosemary Alexander, Sarah Price and Ulf Nordfjell choose their favourite ornamental grasses for the garden

Ornamental grasses can help structure, texture and the sensory nature of a garden. The soft wave of a grass in the wind, and the quiet rustle can be wonderfully relaxing. Ornamental grasses shouldn’t be overlooked for their benefits to wildlife too and you can grow them easily in gravel gardens or in containers. They tolerate a wide range of conditions and don’t need much looking after. Are they the perfect plant? Here are some suggestions of lovely ornamental grasses from three experts. For more on Pennisetum grasses, head to our plant profile.
1

Anemanthele lessoniana

Ornamental grasses: Amelanchier lamarckii, Anemanthele lessoniana, Hakonechloa macra and Phlomis russeliana
Ornamental grasses: Amelanchier lamarckii, Anemanthele lessoniana, Hakonechloa macra and Phlomis russeliana
© Jason Ingram

A low-maintenance ornamental grass that resents being crowded and tends to seed around. Its arching flower heads and slightly arching foliage give movement to a border. Can be cut back in late autumn. AGM. H 60cm. S 60cm. C Average soil; full sun. SI All year. HR RHS H4, USDA 7a-9b. Chosen by Rosemary Alexander

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2

Festuca glauca ‘Intense Blue’ (=‘Casblue’)

This ornamental grass forms dense, hemispherical clumps of blue-green leaves with flowering spikes that mature to a pale-tan colour in early autumn. Useful as an accent plant at the front of a border. H 25-30cm. S 20cm. C Prefers well-drained, thin, dry soil; full sun. SI All year, especially autumn. HR RHS H5, USDA 4a-8b. RA

3

Helictotrichon sempervirens

Ornamental grasses: Helictotrichon sempervirens
 Helictotrichon sempervirens
© DeAgostini/Getty Images

A good specimen ornamental grass with balls of stiff, blue-green leaves and straw-coloured flowers held well above the foliage. Can be a useful anchor plant on a corner. May be infected by rust in shade. AGM. H 1.2m. S 65cm. C Well-drained, humus-rich soil; sun. SI Midsummer. HR RHS H7, USDA 4a-9b. RA

4

Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’

This versatile, upright switch grass is free flowering with strong, red autumn colour. Forms a misty effect when planted en masse. Can be prone to chafer grub. H 1.5m. S 40cm. C Well-drained, dry soil. SI Winter. HR RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b. RA

5

Stipa gigantea

Ornamental grasses: Stipa gigantea
© Jason Ingram

Spectacular flower stems are held high above dense, evergreen clumps of grey-green leaves. An ornamental grass to be seen against the setting sun. AGM. H 2.2m. S 1m. C Well-drained soil; full sun. SI Summer. HR RHS H7, USDA 6a-10b.  RA

 

6

Briza maxima

Ornamental grasses: Briza maxima
© FlowerPhotos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A clump-forming annual ornamental grass, with low, leafy tufts and beautiful flowerheads composed of a mass of spikelets. These dainty, trembling ‘lockets’ are flushed purple before turning golden. Useful for creating a meadow-like feel. Self seeds. H 45cm. S 50cm. C Well-drained soil; full sun. SI May to August. HR RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b. Chosen by Sarah Price

 

7

Calamagrostis emodensis

Ornamental grasses: Calamagrostis emodensis
© Maayke de Ridder

Initially, I was unimpressed with this ornamental grass as I hadn’t provided it with the space it needed. Now it’s in gravel so that its arching stems and pale-pink flowers can be appreciated. The fluffy seedheads are so persistent it almost seems a pity to cut them down in early spring. H 1.2m. S 40cm. C Well-drained soil; sun or light shade if soil not too dry. SI June; flowerheads stay through winter. SP

 

8

Chondropetalum tectorum

One of the hardiest restios with narrow, rush-like foliage and tightly bunched, dark-brown filaments. I use it as a dark, evergreen backdrop to make its colourful South African counterparts – dieramas and gladioli – glow. Good for coastal gardens. H 50cm. S 1m. C Fertile, well-drained soil (will not tolerate waterlogging); full sun. SI Evergreen. HR RHS H3, USDA 9a-11. SP

 

9

Hordeum jubatum

Ornamental grasses: Hordeum jubatum
© Jason Ingram

Loved for its long, purplish-pink, silvery awns that have a spectacular halo when backlit by sunshine. At its best when grown in an open, gravel scree, where its plumes appear to float above dianthus, thymes and other grounded sun lovers. Produces flowers over a long period. Best grown as an annual. H 1m. S 50cm. C Well-drained soil; full sun.
SI June to July. HR RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b. SP

10

Melica altissima ‘Alba’

Ornamental grasses: Melica altissima 'Alba'
© Jason Ingram

White, bead-like flowers hang in airy sprays on low, gently arching, fresh foliage. An ornamental grass that’s lovely planted en masse or among ferns so you can see the spikelets tremble in the breeze. Cut down after first flush of flowers to stimulate a second. H 50cm. S 60cm. C Fertile, well-drained soil; full sun or part shade. SI May to June. HR RHS H6. SP

11

Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Heidebraut’

Ornamental grasses: Molinia heidebraut
© Jason Ingram

Indispensable mid-height moor ornamental grass. Upright flower stems gradually fan outwards as they gain height. Beautiful as a singular accent, en masse, or when woven through herbaceous plantings as a gauzy veil. H 1.2m. S 50cm. C Moist but well-drained, neutral to acid soils; full sun to part shade. SI June to November. HR RHS H7, USDA 4a-9b. SP

 

12

Calamagrostis brachytricha

Ornamental grasses: Calamagrostis brachytricha
© Jason Ingram

Forms a clump of glossy green, linear leaves that turn yellow in autumn. In late summer purple-tinged flower plumes, emerge which fade to create a silvery winter silhouette. AGM. H 1-1.5m. S 50cm-1m. C Moist, well-drained soil; full sun. SI Year round. HR RHS H6, USDA 4a-9b. Chosen by Ulf Nordfjell

 

13

Hakonechloa macra

Ornamental grasses: Hakonechloa macra
© Jason Ingram

This clump-forming ornamental grass with bamboo-like, bright-green leaves provides a soft structure to borders. Planted en masse it creates a lush backdrop for thalictrums, irises and spring bulbs. AGM. H 35-70cm. S 50-80cm. C Moist, peaty soil; part shade. SI June. HR RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.UN

14

Molinia caerulea ‘edith dudszus’

A structural ornamental grass with dense, narrow upright leaves that turn an orange-yellow in late autumn. In late summer it produces slender plumes of dark-purple spikelets on purple-black stems. H 90cm. S 40cm. C Well-drained soil; full sun. SI Spring to autumn. HR RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b. UN

15

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’

Forms a cone of green foliage, with feathery, purple spikelets that create an airy feel in late summer. You only need one or two plants to add light and shimmer to the border. H 1.8m. S 50cm. C Well-drained soil; full sun or part shade. SI June – November. HR RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b. UN

 

16

Sesleria nitida

Ornamental grasses
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My signature grass, which produces mounds of spiky, blue-green leaves, topped in late spring by attractive, white flowerheads. Good for edging borders. H 40-50cm. S 35cm. C Well-drained soil; full sun. SI Year round. HR USDA 5a-8b. UN