Ornamental grasses seem to divide opinion more than any other group of plants. Some people, myself included, love them for their grace and elegance, the way they catch the breeze and add colour and movement to the late summer and autumn garden.
Others view them as a passing fashion, or worse, as nothing more interesting than stray seedlings from the lawn to be ripped out with the creeping buttercup and bindweed.
They may be relative newcomers to our gardens but I firmly believe that their positive contribution is here to stay. Some designers like to use grasses in bold contemporary blocks of single species, some in prairie style mixtures with other late flowering North American plants, their natural bed fellows. In my own garden I like to experiment with plant combinations and I've found the diversity and versatility of grasses to be indispensable, they are simply brilliant garden plants.
The cascading copper and olive foliage of Anemanthele lessoniana tones beautifully in shade with the fern Dryopteris erythrosora or in sun with orange roses like 'Lady of Shallott' and makes a perfect backdrop to the sky blue geranium 'Rozanne'. As autumn approaches the tiny droplets of bronze flowers on long falling stems are perfect with Aster 'Monch' and Kniphofia 'Little Maid' or 'Bees Lemon'.
Low growing with a dense arching habit it's perfect for covering difficult banks
For height without heaviness Miscanthus 'Morning Light' is just lovely. Upright and slightly arching at the tips with a fine white stripe through the light green leaves, it rises slowly over the summer to form a statuesque plant, perfect with Anemone 'Honorine Jobert; white Hydrangea quercifolia or Fuchsia 'Hawkshead, very refined and elegant.
As the year moves on and the colour in the garden begins to turn, grasses with good autumn hues shoot like flames around the skirts of fiery leaved shrubs and trees like Acer palmatum, Cotinus coggygria and Amelanchier lamarkii. Imperata 'Rubra' has red tipped leaves all summer and many of the Panicums have brilliant red autumn foliage, spectacular when teamed with deep red Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Blackfield'.
If you're new to grasses and it's all year round versatility you're after then Stipa tenuissima is hard to beat, light and airy the foliage and long lasting wispy flowers float among so many perfect companions from geraniums and roses to lavender and Potentilla fruticosa cultivars, it's a brilliant grass for any garden style.