Ornamental grasses: the best grasses to grow
Garden designers Rosemary Alexander, Sarah Price and Ulf Nordfjell choose their favourite ornamental grasses for the garden
Are ornamental grasses the perfect plants? They add structure, texture and a sensory element to a garden and the soft wave of a grass in the wind, and their 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 borders, gravel gardens or in containers.
Grasses tolerate a wide range of conditions and don't need much looking after, apart from some potential cutting back in late winter – read our expert advice on how and when you should be cutting back grasses.
Here are some suggestions of lovely ornamental grasses from three experts – garden designers Rosemary Alexander, Sarah Price and Ulf Nordfjell.
Read our plant profiles of Pennisetum and the newly fashionable Cortaderia (pampas grass) and don't miss our interview with Neil Lucas, ornamental grass expert.
The best ornamental grasses to grow
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. Height 60cm. S 60cm. Conditions Average soil; full sun. Season of interest All year. RHS H4, USDA 7a-9b. Recommended by Rosemary Alexander
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. Height 25-30cm. S 20cm. Conditions Prefers well-drained, thin, dry soil; full sun. Season of interest All year, especially autumn. RHS H5, USDA 4a-8b. Recommended by Rosemary Alexander
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. Height 1.2m. S 65cm. Conditions Well-drained, humus-rich soil; sun. Season of interest Midsummer. RHS H7, USDA 4a-9b. Recommended by Rosemary Alexander
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. Height 1.5m. S 40cm. Conditions Well-drained, dry soil. Season of interest Winter. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b. Recommended by Rosemary Alexander
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. Height 2.2m. S 1m. Conditions Well-drained soil; full sun. Season of interest Summer. RHS H7, USDA 6a-10b. Recommended by Rosemary Alexander
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. Height 45cm. S 50cm. Conditions Well-drained soil; full sun. Season of interest May to August. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b. Recommended by Sarah Price
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. Height 1.2m. S 40cm. Conditions Well-drained soil; sun or light shade if soil not too dry. Season of interest June; flowerheads stay through winter. Recommended by Sarah Price
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. Height 50cm. S 1m. Conditions Fertile, well-drained soil (will not tolerate waterlogging); full sun. Season of interest Evergreen. RHS H3, USDA 9a-11. Recommended by Sarah Price
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. Height 1m. S 50cm. Conditions Well-drained soil; full sun. Season of interest June to July. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b. Recommended by Sarah Price
Melica altissima ‘Alba’
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. Height 50cm. S 60cm. Conditions Fertile, well-drained soil; full sun or part shade. Season of interest May to June. RHS H6. Recommended by Sarah Price
Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Heidebraut’
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. Height 1.2m. S 50cm. Conditions Moist but well-drained, neutral to acid soils; full sun to part shade. Season of interest June to November. RHS H7, USDA 4a-9b. Recommended by Sarah Price
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. Height 1-1.5m. S 50cm-1m. Conditions Moist, well-drained soil; full sun. Season of interest Year round. RHS H6, USDA 4a-9b. Recommended by Ulf Nordfjell
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. Season of interest June. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b. Recommended by Ulf Nordfjell
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. Height 90cm. S 40cm. Conditions Well-drained soil; full sun. Season of interest Spring to autumn. HR RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b. Recommended by Ulf Nordfjell
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. Height 1.8m. Conditions Well-drained soil; full sun or part shade. Season of interest June – November. HR RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b. Recommended by Ulf Nordfjell
My signature grass, which produces mounds of spiky, blue-green leaves, topped in late spring by attractive, white flowerheads. Good for edging borders. Height 40-50cm. Conditions Well-drained soil; full sun. Season of interest Year round. HR USDA 5a-8b. Chosen by Ulf Nordfjell
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