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It's only natural to love grasses

 This year’s Chelsea Flower Show was no exception with the emphasis well and truly on natural gardening, focusing on plants that grow as native species or those that are adept at thriving with very little on-going maintenance.

It may not be too surprising to learn that a large proportion of our own country’s native species are grasses. With the fashions of garden design changing with the wind, one trend is growing ever stronger.

Although the use of grasses in planting schemes is one being championed by many modern designers, grasses were used frequently by the legendary Gertrude Jekyll. The reasons for their ever increasing popularity are many, from the architectural splendour of their foliage to their true versatility at growing in a wide range of conditions. Many grasses are colourful statements simply with their foliage like the evergreen Stipa arundinacea, with its rich, shiny hues of orange and red in late summer.

Taller grasses like the majestic Stipa gigantea are almost unmatched in the garden for their stately elegance, the golden spikelets held proudly above the grey-green foliage. Caught in even the lightest breeze, this grass sways with a mesmerizing beauty.

One of the most advantageous aspects of grasses is the contrast of their foliage to most other broad leaved garden plants. They have the ability to soften the form of a planting scheme and provide rhythm with their upright character. They change considerably with the mood of the seasons and in winter their frost-sparkled seed heads float like whispered memories above tinted foliage.

There’s a grass for almost any location, with small blue Fescue’s like ‘Blue Fox’ and the blood-red stems of Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ perfect for containers. Carex morrowi ‘Variegata’ is well suited as ground cover, its prostrate, evergreen foliage hugging the soil. The tall Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ is an ideal grass for screening when grown in numbers and is named after the German nurseryman who pioneered the public’s awareness of grasses.

With graceful beauty and varied characters, it’s no wonder grasses have become the essential ingredient of many modern day gardens.