Ornamental foliage plants FAQs

I would like to grow some ornamental grasses for their foliage and flowers. What kinds would you suggest?

As most ornamental grasses are evergreen (although their leaves may be of various shades of green, blue, yellow, or variegated) they are ideal plants for mixing with other perennial types to act as foils for bright colours; their flower heads are also much in demand with flower arrangers. Heights of decorative grasses vary from as low as 150 mm (6 in)—for example, the blue fescue (Festuca glauca)—to as tall as 2.7 m (9 ft) if you grow Miscanthus saccharifloots, with its attractive grey-green leaves.

Other popular ornamental grasses include pampas grass (Cortaderia richardii), Luzula niuea and L. maxima uariegatus, feather grass (Stipa gigantea), and quaking grass (Briza maxima).

I would like to grow some ferns in the shady parts of my herbaceous border for their foliage effect. What are some interesting types?

Ferns are much more popular than they used to be for garden planting, and their fronds (leaves) vary in shape and colour quite considerably. A variety of interesting types to grow include the hardy maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), hart’s-tongue ferns (especially the unusual Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Crispum’), several species of our native lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina, common polypody (Polypodium uulgare ‘Pulcherrimum’), Polystichum species and varieties with different leaf forms, the ostrich-feather fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), and the ever-adaptable male fem (Diyopteris filix-mas).

Bamboo canes are expensive to buy. Can I grow my own?

You can grow them for canes—but you will need a large garden and plenty of space for the plants. Bamboos are shrubby grasses and almost all grow more than 3 m (10 ft) tall. They are graceful, however, have attractive leaves, make good screens, and are generally easy to grow, although they prefer a reasonably moist soil and a site that is not too exposed. The most commonly grown are species of Arundinaria; the 600 mm (2 ft) high ‘Shibataea Kumasasa’ is an attractive small variety for borders. Bamboo canes are harvested in the autumn and dried in a cool place, either laid flat or hung from twine so that they dry straight.

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