Each season brings its own special feel to the garden. All very different, but all with their own beauties on offer.
Winter may seem quiet on the gardening front, with little in the way of colour. But this is when we can really appreciate the structure of plants – architectural evergreens, the silhouettes of deciduous trees, colourful winter stems, wonderfully marked tree bark – as well as little treasures such as Christmas hellebores and Snowdrops.
Spring rushes in with a flurry of yellows and pinks. Bulbs and blossom abound, with new shoots and flowers bursting forth daily.
Summer brings the bright colourful bedding. Colours that would be lost in the lower light levels of the other seasons adorn our gardens and parks.
Autumn. Here we are, with the foliage of plants taking on their autumnal shades of reds, russets, golds. Some consider this to be ‘the end of the gardening year’, but this is certainly not the case.
The plants that really stand out and reach their peak now have to be the ornamental grasses.
The original ‘ornamental grasses’ found in gardens tended to be a bit thuggish and got grasses a bad reputation. Huge clumpy Pampas Grasses, situated in front gardens where, for nine months of the year, they were of little aesthetic value.
On the other hand, the green and white striped ‘gardeners garters’ (Phalaris) would grow – and spread – anywhere, often at the expense of any other plants in the vicinity. Excellent ground cover, but so often planted in the wrong place.
Times have changed. Grasses have upped their style and there are colours and sizes for every situation. We tend to use the term ‘grasses’ loosely, so sedges, rushes, reeds, millett and others come under this – hence species for sun or shade, dry soil or heavy clay – even pond margins. Grasses are fashionable!
The vast majority of grasses form neat, well-behaved clumps of architectural foliage; the narrow leaves contrasting well with larger leafed perennials, or acting as a foil to brightly coloured flowers. Many are evergreen, others hold their plumes of flowers well into winter.
My top 5:
Festuca glauca ‘Blaufuchs’ (Blue Fox): compact and evergreen (actually steely blue) great in winter containers.
Imperata cylindrical ‘Red Baron’: the aptly named Japanese Blood Grass, with colour to rival the autumn foliage of any Acer.
Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blue’: a wonderfully charismatic upright grass, to about 1 metre tall, with broad blue leaves. Impressive!
Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’: I just love the name of this architectural grass, with its white striped foliage and pinkish flower heads. A real designer plant.
Miscanthus are a wonderful genus, ranging from ‘Gnome’, less than 2ft tall, to ‘Silver Feather’ which towers 8ft or more. These are the grasses noted for their plumes of flowers; silver, pink, burgundy – often lasting well into the winter!
We have a lovely range of ornamental grasses in our plant sales area, where you may well be served by our new apprentice, Peter.
Next week, in this column, he will be telling you what it is like to be a horticultural trainee…
n Manea School of Gardening (RHS Approved Centre). Plant sales on Saturdays 10am -4pm.