That’s what was said about ornamental grasses a century ago, before many of our homes were built. They knew what we have come to embrace in recent years – that grasses are an inordinately useful group of plants that can enhance any type of landscape – from the most formal to cottage gardens to contemporary and minimalist spaces. In fact, there is no garden style in which grasses can’t be a successful feature.
Grasses are remarkably easy to please, come in many sizes and colors, provide year-round interest, and add engaging texture and movement to the landscape.
While all plants can engage us visually, and some catch our attention with a delicious scent, grasses move with the breeze and create sound as well.
Grasses generally tolerate less than perfect conditions – variations in soil acidity, sand or clay content, and many are tolerant of wind and salt. There are grasses for sun and for shade.
Most prefer little fertilizer and are drought tolerant, although there are others who don’t mind moist soils. Overall, grasses aren’t bothered by pests or diseases and most are deer resistant.
Grasses can form a hedge, provide screening and help define garden spaces. They can give the garden vertical interest and mix very well with other perennials.
Smaller grasses can be used as edging or borders along paths, in the front or back of your perennial bed and are charming in rock gardens.
Grasses bloom, generally in late summer and fall, providing interest when other plants are beginning to decline. The gold, burgundy, rose and russet tones of the flower spikes pick up the autumn hues in the trees.
Many grasses persist into the winter, tall and golden in the sun, frosted with snow or simply standing among the bare trees and evergreens while your other perennials hibernate underground. Grasses provide shelter for wildlife in the winter, too.
Care of ornamental grasses is very simple. Water them well the first season. After that, most are remarkably tolerant of drought. In late winter/early spring, trim your grasses down to a few inches above ground before new growth appears.
One of the latest movements in landscape design is replacing lawn with meadow garden, which mixes grasses with wildflowers and perennials – there is some beautiful work being done in that area, particularly on larger properties, but aspects of that approach can be used very effectively in smaller, urban gardens. No matter your garden situation, there are grasses for you.
If you already know and love grasses, you are a fortunate gardener; if you’ve never had the pleasure, you are in for a treat!