Using Grasses In Dried Flower Arrangements

The infinite variety and decorative value of many different kinds of grasses, both cultivated and wild, gives the dried flower worker wonderful scope, adding interest, charm and lightness to an arrangement. There are corns, sedges, rushes and blade-like leaves, beautifully coloured and striped, and gracefully arching stems bearing plumed flower-heads. Some seed catalogues list mixed grasses for sowing. The Sunningdale Nurseries at Windlesham stock an admirable collection, many of which look well in the herbaceous border or wild garden. Sowings from packets of budgerigar and mixed bird seed can at times produce exciting “novelty” grasses, well worth the experiment. For a really exhaustive study of these specialised and charming forms of wild vegetation, consult The Concise British Flora, by W. Keble Martin.

Some of the most effective and decorative varieties, many of which can be treated as annuals, are listed below.

  • Agrostis (Bent Grass): this beautiful grass in its several varieties – all with fairy-like graceful inflorescences – is most people’s idea of “real” grass; and indeed, nothing could be more indispensable to the dried arrangement worker. It is found abundantly everywhere in the wild and should be gathered early in the season and stored loosely, standing upright. No store should ever be without a supply. A. nebulosa (Cloud-Grass) is a fine garden form.
  • A. delicatula “Pouss” is a Bent grass of exquisite delicacy, from northern Spain.
  • Aira elegans (Hair-Grass), A. caryophyllea (Silver Hair-Grass) and A. prcecox (Early Hair-Grass) have useful dainty decorative heads.
  • Alopecurus, in variety: some of these wild foxtails growing in damp ground have charming woolly inflorescence.
  • Apera spica-venti is known as Loose Silky Bent or Wind-Grass.
  • Calamagrostis canescens (Purple Small Reed), C. epigejos (Wood Small Reed) and other varieties, are all charming with their silky inflorescences.Using Grasses In Dried Flower Arrangements
  • Carex: a large genus of sedges, many of which are well worth collecting from their wild damp haunts. Some of their heads are beautifully coloured and are useful in dried arrangements for placing at the “central top”, or drooping low, or as “insetting” lower down. Their leaves, too, are useful: some bright yellow, some striped, some nearly all-white.
  • Catabrosa aquatica (Water Whorl-Grass) grows in ponds, ditches and on moist banks, but is less abundant.
  • Cortaderia Selloana, syn. C. argentea is the very tall Argentine pampas grass with big grassy tufts and silvery plumes.
  • Festuca ovina glauca (Sheeps Fescue): its beautiful tufts of very narrow steel-blue leaves provide a most worthy addition to any dried group, especially small ones – a beautiful ‘grass.
  • F. vivipara has very attractive green tufted ends.
  • Glyceria aquatica variegata has enchanting leaves, striped with yellow, and looks well when pressed and stored flat in blotting paper.
  • Helictotrichon sempervirens, syn. Avena candida, has narrow blue-grey leaves and graceful flower.. heads which are both good for dried arrangements.
  • Luzula maxima, syn. L. sylvatica: much used in the garden as a ground-cover for suppressing weeds, L. maxima and other varieties of the Luzula genus of rushes are quite useful’ to the dried flower arranger for their brown flower-heads, and some are also useful for their leaves. It will frequently be found growing wild in woods, pastures, and on hills.
  • L. nivea is a pretty rush.
  • Melica ciliata L. comes from northern Spain and has creamy feathery seed-heads.
  • Milium effusum aureum (Wood Millet) has spectacular chrome-yellow leaves which can be pressed, as well as a particularly attractive flower-head which dries well stood upright with other fluffy grasses.
  • Miscanthus sinensis, syn. Eulalia japonica: there are various forms such as M. s. variegatus, M. s. zebrinus and M. s. gracillimus. The beautiful pinky-brown flower-heads can be dried either hanging upside down or lying flat, and the sheaves of green leaves – some tinged with yellow – press well. The leaves of M. s. zebrinus are banded cross-wise with yellow. For small arrangements, leaves can be cut into smaller lengths and their tips re-shaped into points before pressing and storing.
  • Molinia cxrulea variegata (Purple Moor-Grass) is a pretty, variegated grass with cream-striped leaves (which need to be cut early as they die later) and purple flower-heads which are useful for drying.
  • Phalaris arundinacea picta (Ribbon-Grass, Gardener’s Garters) has conspicuous white-striped leaves which press well. The flower-heads, too, are worth drying upright. The smaller form, P. arundinacea (Reed Canary-Grass), is useful. It was originally introduced as bird-seed.
  • Phleum pratense (Cat’s Tail, Timothy Grass): a most useful and quite charming grass, growing wild in meadows. If harvested early, its heads retain their elongated shape, and with their beautiful light green colour make an attractive outline addition to dried arrangements.
  • Poa bulbosa var. vivipara is a tufted grass.
  • Stipa: though the ornamental S. gigantea, which grows some five feet high, is much grown in gardens and for decorative purposes, the smaller S. pennata (Feather-Grass), growing two and a half feet high, is more appropriate in scale for smaller arrangements.
  • For a further assortment of decorative grasses, many of which can be sown and harvested annually, consult Messrs Thompson & Morgan’s seed catalogue. This and other catalogues will provide an exciting list. Examples are given below.
  • Avena sterilis (Animated Oats)
  • Briza – both B. maxima and B.. minor: the Quaking Grasses which make such an intriguing, dangling addition to any arrangement
  • Bromus macrostachys and B. madritensis, with their attractive spikelets Coix Lacryma-jobi (Job’s Tears)
  • Digitaria sanguinalis (Crab-Grass): an ornamental grass of recent production Elymus arenarius (the beautiful Lyme-Grass) has stems from two to five feet high, glaucous leaves and impressive straw-coloured seed-spikes, so invaluable for arching effects, especially in tall arrangements. These spikes can be varnished, and their heads need to be dried flat.
  • E. canadensis: a graceful perennial with glaucous leaves and long seed-spikes, useful for tall arrangements
  • Eragrostis abyssinica, and E. elegans (Love-Grass)
  • Hordeum jubatum (Squirrel-Tail-Grass) and the wild barleys, with their characteristic beards which can be trimmed and shaped with fine scissors
  • Lagurus ovatus (Hare’s-Tail-Grass – a most suitable name!), this creamy-hued piece of fuzzy fluff is quite the most popular, if not necessarily the most exclusive, of all grasses. Pennisetum longistylum, syn. P. villosum, and P. Ruppelii syn. P. orientale: though somewhat tall, their long bristles are graceful. They are half-hardy and should be started off in a green- house.
  • Polypogon monspeliensis, a fine ornamental beard-grass of unusually attractive shape Setaria glaucum, a half-hardy annual
  • S. viridis, the annual bristle-grass
  • Tricholana rosea, a quite beautiful semi-fluffy grass. Its head, pink when first picked, ultimately takes on a lustrous grey colour – most fascinating for “outlining” in arrangements.

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