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Ornamental grasses

Increasingly popular amongst modern gardeners, ornamental grasses are generally tolerant and easy to care for,  will grow successfully in a variety of conditions and are appreciated by the wildlife in your garden.  Some hard-leaved evergreen varieties will provide shelter, shape, colour and structure all year round.

Different grasses provide foliage and flower at different times of the year and for planning for seasonal interest it’s helpful to know that grasses such as Deschampsia, Festuca and Stipa come from cooler climates and begin growing in late winter/early spring, flowering in early summer.  By comparison, Miscanthus, and Pennisetums originate in warmer climates and are later to begin growing and flowering.

Festuca ‘Intense Blue’

This low-growing, clump-forming grass is one of our best sellers, and is primarily grown for its vibrant blue foliage.  It produces brown flowers in summer, but the wow factor of this plant is its amazing blue leaves!  
It is useful plant and because it remains low-growing it’s often used in rockeries, at the edges of cottage garden borders or in planters.
It enjoys well-drained, sunny positions and requires little maintenance. In spring, ‘comb out’ any dead leaves to allow the fresh new blue foliage to flourish.
Over time the centre of the plant will die out so lift and sub-divide it in the dormant season after a few years to keep this beautiful grass fresh and vigorous.

Miscanthus sinensis Zebrinus

Commonly known as the Zebra Grass, the leaves of this grass have creamy or pale yellow horizontal bands giving a striped appearance which almost sparkles in the sunshine. 
It is a non-evergreen plant that can grow to over 1 metre tall, and produces spiky flowers in late summer/autumn which are mirage-like when waving in the breeze.
This grass likes full sun and is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, providing that they are well-drained.  Avoid planting in areas where it will sit in water over winter as that will lead to rot.  
As with all grasses, ‘comb out’ dead leaves in early spring to encourage new growth.

Cortaderia ‘Pumila’

This is a compact version of the well-known pampas grass.  A robust variety which forms a compact tuft of narrow leaves with upright stems and panicles of dense silvery or pink-tinged flowers in late summer.  The flowers are excellent for drying and popular for use in the home (see image).
It can grow up to 1.5 metres (5ft) tall, and is evergreen.
This grass needs good sunlight and well-drained soil but is happy whether it is in a sheltered or exposed situation.
Like most grasses, it’s best to ‘comb out’ dead leaves in the spring to encourage new, fresh growth.

Stipa tenuissima

This grass is commonly known as ‘Pony’s Tails’, and is prized for its fantastic plumes of feathery flowerheads in summer.  It grows to approximately 60cm (2ft) high and the sight of the feathery plumes moving in a gentle breeze are thought to be very calming.
It is a non-evergreen plant, which enjoys good soil and full sun.
This grass dies back in autumn and ‘hibernates’ underground over winter ready to come back bigger and better the following season.
In spring, cut back any dead leaves to encourage new growth.

Stipa arundinacea

Commonly known as ‘Pheasant’s Tail’ , this Stipa also produces wonderful plumes of flowerheads. However, it also has very attractive winter foliage colour when its fountain-like clumps of slender foliage develop orange/red/yellow spots and streaks in autumn.  These colours intensify as the days get colder making it an attractive feature in the winter garden. 
This grass can endure exposed positions and a range of light conditions from full sun to partial shade.  Although it is tolerant of low temperatures it should be protected below minus ten degrees. 


These evergreen, hard grasses are amazingly tolerant of a wide range of conditions.  Most varieties have been cultivated from Phormium tenax; a very hardy plant originating in New Zealand.  Phormiums generally can withstand strong, salty winds which makes it well suited to our East Lothian climate.  Depending on the variety, they can grow from 60cm (2ft) to over 2 metres (6ft) tall, and their attractive, sword-like leaves offer colour and structure throughout the year.
 Indeed, visitors to Merryhatton can see mature Phormiums at our entrance with their exotic flower plumes that dry out and remain on the plant long after the flower heads are gone.

Images shown:

Phormium ‘Cream Delight’ (top left)

Phormium ‘Pink Stripe’ (bottom left)


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