Ornamental Grasses

There are a number of ornamental grasses which can be grown for the purpose of providing good flower-stems or attractive leaves of decorative value. They have been used with much success at flower shows, and there is no doubt that their presence in any arrangement does impart an air of elegance and distinction.

Many of these grasses are at their best in July, after which certain of them become less attractive. Therefore, if the spikes or plumes are required for later use, they must be secured when they are at the right stage of development. They will keep well if made up into small, loosely tied bundles and are hung upside down in an airy place or a well-ventilated greenhouse. This will result in the stems becoming hard and rigid, and they will turn an attractive pale-golden colour.

The majority of the ornamental grasses can be treated as hardy annuals and sown where they are to flower. They are not particular as to soil, but prefer a sunny site. Among the easily obtainable species is Avena sterilis, betteAvena sterilisr known as the Animated Oat, so named because their bristle-like appendages become animated by changes in weather conditions. Several of the agrostis species produce light, feathery flowers, and are sometimes known as Cloud grasses, for obvious reasons.

Aira capillaris, often known as the Hair Grass, is smaller, having, from July until September, on ft stems, many hair-like branch-lets. Another dainty species is Bromus briraeformis, the Brome Grass, which has quite large, drooping spikelets.

One of the best of all ornamental grasses is Brira maxima, the quaking grass, which is invaluable both when fresh or dried for the winter. It grows 12-18 in. high, and has rather drooping stems well laden with bronze spikelets. B. minor is a smaller, daintier form.

Coix lachryma-jobi is often known as Job’s Tears, because the pearly-grey seeds hang down as if they will fall at any moment. In the past the seeds have often been made into necklaces and rosaries.

Eragrostis maxima is the Love Grass, which produces graceful flowers of special use for mixing with fresh flowers or for drying. From July until September the large branching panicles appear on 1-2-ft stems.

Hordeum jubatum is the Squirrel’s Tail. It is most popular both when fresh and dried, while it can be dyed very successfully. The Hare’s Tail grass is also much used for winter decoration, the appearance of its flower-heads giving rise to its common name.

Stipa pennala is the Feather Grass, the dainty heads, on 18-in. Stems, looking really attractive. Mention must also be made of Zea Mays, var. japonica, which is the variegated maize. There are several forms, some having narrowish leaves, while others have greater variegations. Plants of these are normally started into growth under glass in the open ground towards the end of May. The other grasses can be sown thinly in the open ground on well-prepared beds of fine soil, the seedlings being thinned out early so that they are able to develop into sturdy plants.

Preparing a garden to grow annual and perennial grasses

English: Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), A...

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Prepare the site for annual grasses by cultivating to a fine tilth and raking in a balanced organic fertilizer at 65-100 g per sq m (2-3 oz per sq yd). A planting distance of 30 cm (1 ft) is satisfactory for most annual grasses. Water the young plants generously at first to get them established, after which one good watering a week in dry weather should be sufficient. Stop watering once the flowers and seed-heads appear.

Cut the heads for drying on a warm, dry day before the seed has set, otherwise they will become overripe and begin to scatter. After cutting, they are best wrapped, not too tightly, in newspaper, and hung up to dry in a warm but airy and dark place.


Briza maxima (quaking grass). Height 45 cm (1.5 ft). One of the annual grasses most grown for decoration, this has large, nodding spikes, which dry exceptionally well.

Hordeum jitbatum (squirrel tail). Height 45 cm (1.5 ft). An ornamental barley with silky, long-haired tassels.

Lagurus ovatits (hare’s tail). Height 45 cm (1.5 ft). Another favourite, with soft and fluffy, creamy-white plumes.

Setaria italica (foxtail millet). Height 60 cm (2 ft). Large, nodding, green heads that turn golden when dried.

Choosing perennial grasses

Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ (pampas grass). Height 1.2-1.8 m (4-6 ft). Compact and suitable for small gardens.

C. selloana ‘Sunningdale Silver’. Slightly taller at about 1.8-2.1 m (6-8 ft), with very good silvery plumes.

Festucaglauca. Height 23 cm (9 in). Blue-grey. One of the best evergreen edging grasses.

Glyceria aquatilis ‘Variegata’. Height 60 cm (2 ft). Best for a wet situation. The leaves have white, yellow and green stripes, the white appearing pinkish on young growths.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silver Feather’. Height 2.1 m (7 ft). This bamboo-like grass provides a good display during September and October, with silky flowerheads.

Miscanthus saccbariflorus. Suitable for a windbreak, strong-growing but not invasive. It will grow 1.8-2.7 m (6-9 ft) m one year. The grass grows from the base each year but the dead stalks remain during the winter.

Pennisetum orientale. Height 45 cm (1.5 ft). Forms plenty of brown-green flower spikes from July to September.

Palaris arundinacea ‘Picta’. Height 90 cm (3 ft). This also prefers moist conditions, but can be very invasive. It has white and green-striped leaves.


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