Plant Profile - Using Ornamental Grasses in the Garden

Ornamental grasses really do add a lot to the garden and borders and it’s worth considering them when you are planning a border or looking to fill spaces. They provide varying colours, textures and movement, softening spaces between other plants and make wonderful accent plants. They look great with almost any plant and give long seasons of interest from new growth in spring to old flower 
stems left on through winter.

Briza media

It’s important to choose grasses for your design that require the same conditions as their companions and for where they will be going in the garden. There are grasses for damp or dry soil, shady as well as sunny situations. Many are ideal for gravel gardens, prairie planting, wildlife gardens and are great to add to the cutting garden; others perform well in containers. Ornamental grasses tolerate a wide range of conditions, but most like an open sunny position in light, moist but well-drained, moderately fertile soil.

Carex dipsacea

Grasses can also be used to create a temporary hedge through the growing season. Tall upright grasses such as Calamagrostis works well for this. Their tall airy flowers provide a barrier but without being over-powering. Along the edge of a path smaller grasses such as Carex or Hackenochloa work well, softening the hard edges of paths and providing an edge to the plants within the border.


Unlike a lot of plants grasses do not need much feeding; this can encourage lush foliage at the expense of flowers. One application of a balanced fertiliser in spring is adequate. They are self supporting, even the tallest molinias and Calamagrostis. The tallest ones growing here in the nursery suffer very little wind damage, they just go with the flow........

Millium effusum 'Aureum'

Whether you want to use them as a filler, to add texture and interest or as a screen or focal point, you’re almost certain to find an ornamental grass that is perfect for the job! By visiting the nursery gardens here at Quercus you will get plenty inspiration how to use grasses and which to grow. We have a wide selection available to buy in the nursery. You can see our full list of grasses (with some variation as the season progresses) on our website Plant page (see below for link).

Molinias at Scampston Hall

If you are growing grasses in containers, use a multi-purpose compost and feed in spring. As with all containers and pots, keep well-watered, especially when the weather is dry or windy. Evergreen grasses such as Carex combine well with winter bedding to give height and a contrast in texture.

Chionochloa rubra

Different grasses require different treatment once they’ve finished flowering. The foliage on deciduous grasses can be left until February for its structure and movement in the depths of winter when any contribution to interest in the garden is welcome. Evergreen grasses only require a tidy up, cutting out dead leaves and trimming up the ends. A dog comb works well here, drawing it through the grass from base to ends taking the dead stems with it.

Hackenochloa, Scampston Hall Gardens

I’ve concentrated on grasses that haven proven their worth here in the nursery at 850 feet above sea level on our cold clay soil.

Grasses for borders

Anthoxanthum odoratum
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Avalanche’
Calamagrostis brachytricha         
Chionochloa rubra          
Elymus magellanicus
Helictotrichon sempervirens AGM             
Juncus effusus f spiralis
Melica nutans
Melica uniflora f Albida
Milium effusum ‘Aureum’ AGM (Bowles Golden Grass)   
Miscanthus sinensis 'Herman Mussel'
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Fontäne’ AGM           
Molinia caer. subsp. arundinacea ‘Cordoba’  
Molinia caer. subsp. arundinacea ‘Fontäne’
Molinia caer. subsp. arundinacea ‘Karl Foerster’   
Molinia caer. subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’  
Molinia caer. subsp. arundinacea ‘Windspiel’      
Molinia caer. subsp. caerulea ‘Dauerstrahl’
Molinia caer. subsp. caerulea ‘Edith Dudszus’  
Molinia caer. subsp. caerulea ‘Heidebraut’
Molinia caer. subsp. caerulea ‘Moorhexe’
Molinia caer. subsp. caerulea ‘Strahlenquelle’
Molinia caer. subsp. caerulea ‘Variegata’ AGM        
Sesleria caerulea
Stipa gigantea

Grasses for pots
Carex ‘Ice Dance’             
Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ AGM             
Carex buchananii
Carex dipsacea
Festuca glauca
Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’         
Stipa tenuissima              

Grasses for Shade
Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Bronzeschleier’ (Bronze Veil)
Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Coral Cloud’
Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Garnet Schist’  
Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ (Golden Dew)
Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Tauträger’
Hakonechloa macra
Luzula nivea

Grasses for seasonal hedges, screens
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’               
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’  
Molinia caer. subsp. arundinacea ‘Skyracer’

Luzula sylvatica 'Hohe Tatra'

Molinia 'Transparent', Piet Oudolf gardens,
Scampston Hall Gardens

Molinia caer. Subsp caer. 'Variegata'

Molinia caer. Subsp caer. 'Variegata'

Sesleria caerulea

Stipa gigantea

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