Growing Ornamental Grasses For Cutting

Growing Ornamental Grasses For Cutting

Once you have grown a few ornamental grasses you are likely to want always to have a few plants in the garden. They really can be quite beautiful when seen at close quarters. Used fresh and in their prime they blend beautifully with many kinds of flowers. It is a revelation to discover the violet, rose, carmine and blue of their inflorescences, colours one had never suspected were dusted over the grasses.

Seedsmen sell both collections and mixtures of ornamental grasses. Some of those worth growing are Aira capillaris; meadow foxtail or A. pratensis and Briza minor and B. maxima, both quaking grasses. You may have found wild examples growing. Sometimes B. minor is called the pearl grass because of the soft pearly texture of the inflorescence. Perhaps a little more difficult to grow than the others (it is best to treat it like sweetcorn, which it resembles), is Coix lacryma-jobi, or Job’s tears. This is a striking plant in appearance; each heart-shaped ‘tear’ hangs gracefully from a tiny stem. There is also a variegated form. These grasses will dry but when used in their fresh state they are truly beautiful and unusual.

Stipa pennata is a long feathery grass which was once used a lot in table decorations when it was the fashion to ‘add something light’. I find that it is best to strip the ‘feathers’ of leaves and then to bunch several together treated as one stem. Although you may have seen hare’s tail grasses dried—these soft, fluffy things are very popular—they are simply delightful and quite different when used fresh. Gradually the grass matures in the vase and one day each fluffy head is smothered with tiny swinging stamens of palest golden yellow. Another lovely ‘animal’ grass is Hordeum jubatum, or squirrel tail grass. The long brushes are silky and fine. If you gather any of these grasses for drying only, be sure to pick them young, soon after the plume has emerged from its protective sheath.

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