Grasses – high fashion and here to stay.
The shelter and seclusion of the garden is no place to hide from the fleeting fads and fancies of high fashion as anyone who fell victim to the ‘Majorelle blue deck’ phase will admit. Like it, the ‘heathers and dwarf conifers’ era has also long since been and gone, except for the once dwarf, now fairly sizeable specimen conifers towering over front gardens reminding us that in reality the term ‘dwarf’ actually meant slow growing.
We can still see heathers of course where they look their best, vast purple swathes of them still grace our acid uplands, at home in their native environment, not with alien conifers but sedges and grasses, their natural partners of windswept hillsides and the latest addition to the plant world’s fashion palette.
In recent years the ‘new perennial’ movement has swept through northern Europe, its free and easy natural style emulating the steppes of Russia the North American prairies and for this time of year it’s the current fashion statement of choice.
A mix of long and late flowering perennials and architectural grasses there’s something for every early autumn garden here except perhaps those of the very neat and tidy brigade of gardeners who can’t keep their well oiled shears and sharpened secateurs away from anything which doesn’t form a tightly clipped blob. Who knows, one day this might become the latest ‘must have’ look.
Personally I’ve welcomed the move away from rigidity to a looser planting style and use grasses not only with perennials but shrubs too.
Clipped balls of balls are transformed by the arching waves of Hakonechloa macra and taller columnar shapes like Cupressus sempervirens look wonderful with the great sprays of Molinia flowers.
I love them too with species roses, Viburnum, Cotoneaster and Berberis where they’re an accompaniment to hips, berries and turning leaves their colours heightening and fading together as the season slowly changes and we’re nudged unwillingly into shorter and colder days.
Many grasses have wonderful autumn colours in their leaves and flowers, and for those of you who haven’t yet been seduced by this latest garden style some of the best are the Panicum family, one of my favourites is ‘Shenandoah’, a real beauty, turning wonderfully red later in the year. For stunning leaves, Imperata cylindrica is striking all year, the ends of its leaves suffused with vivid red right through the summer and autumn.
If it’s structure and shape you’re after then Miscanthus are hard to beat, tall and statuesque in both leaf and flower and for the absolute ultimate in elegance, Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ has the timeless grace and elegance of Joanna Lumley in flowing white linen. How’s that for high fashion!