Get Growing with Grasses, Sedges and Bamboos

If the word "grass" sends your mind to turf, think again. Grasses, along with sedges and bamboos, are one of the best ways to bring dimensionality and movement to your garden design. Here, we share some of our favorites.

Excerpted from Garden Design
  • Sweet Rush Thrives in Damp or Boggy Soil

    Sweet Flag

    An undemanding and non-invasive evergreen that thrives in damp or boggy soils, sweet flag, or sweet rush,is the perfect plant for a shady spot at a pond edge. Its strong cream variegation will remain vivid as it grows to 18 inches tall and 18 inches wide, even in deep shade.

  • Giant Reed Grass has Striking Variegation

    Giant Reed

    The striking variegation of the evergreen giant reed makes it a popular choice, although it is less vigorous and less hardy than the green form. In cold areas, plant it in a pot so you can enjoy it outdoors in summer, then bring it under cover for the winter. Giant reed will grow to 7 feet tall and 6 feet wide in ideal growing conditions: full or partial sun and moist or wet soil.

  • Quaking Grass Makes Distinctive Rattle with Breeze

    Greater Quaking Grass

    Also known as big or large quaking grass, greater quaking grass is easy to grow from seed. Its nodding flowerheads rattle in the lightest breeze, and its stems dry well for future arrangements. Quaking grass can tolerate a variety of soils, as long as it has full sun, and will grow to 12 inches tall and 9 inches wide.

  • Striped Feather Reed Makes Strong Vertical Accent

    Feather Reed Grass

    Feather reed grass makes a strong vertical accent in prairie-style planting, to 3 feet tall. Unfussy and sun-loving, the plant tolerates most soils and can produce a second flush of new growth when cut back in late summer.

  • Variegated Sedge Happy in Bog Like Soil

    Sedge Grasses

    Reliable and variously suited to any number of habitats, evergreen sedges can fill in bare spots and draw attention to - or from - different areas in your garden. The yellow stripes of 'Evergold,' shown here, brighten up shaded, boggy areas such as poolside beds. Plant it beside the slender, coppery-brown leaves of leatherleaf sedge for nice contrast. Another yellow-leaved sedge grass, Bowles' golden, produces brown flower spikes, as does orange-tinted-leaved New Zealand sedge.

  • Dwarf Pampas Grass Mixes Well in Garden Border

    Pampas Grass

    Dwarf pampas grass can add sofening interest to even the smallest yard. 'Pumila,' shown here, is hardier and more free-flowering than the taller species. At 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide, it mixes surprisingly well in a border. 'Aureolineata' is even smaller, and has broad leaves with golden edges that become more richly colored as the season progresses. Pampas grass prefers full sun and well-drained or moist soil. Combing through their leaves with a hand fork in winter will keep clumps looking tidy.

  • Tatra Gold Forms Spreading Tufts of Wavy Grass

    'Tatra Gold' Crinkled Hair Grass

    Wavy hair grass forms slowly-spreading tufts of fine evergreen leaves. Tiny 'Tatra Gold' - which grows to 6 inches tall and 6 inches wide - grows well in moist shade, where its acid-green leaves look almost luminous. In summer, it produces a shimmering haze of red-brown flowers. Plant it in large drifts among bright leaved sedges for a dramatic effect.

  • Blue Wheatgrass Named for its Beautiful Blue Color

    Blue Wheatgrass

    The blue-ish evergreen leaves and wheat-looking flowers of this slow-spreading grass look stunning against a gravel mulch. Growing to 18 inches tall and 18 inches wide in full sun and well-drained or moist soil, it needs winter protection in cold areas.

  • Evergreen Bamboo Tough Plant for Tough Situation

    Umbrella Bamboo

    A tough plant for tough situations, evergreen umbrella bamboo copes well with dry soils and sunny sites, and makes an effective windbreak or screen. The closely spaced, arching canes, which grow to 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide, are slow-spreading and well situated at the back of a border or in a container.

  • Elijah Blue Fescue Effective as Container Plant

    Blue Fescue

    One of those useful plants that look good year-round, the silvery-blue, needle-like leaves of blue fescue form neat, round mounds that look beautiful in a terracotta or metal container. In summer, the plant produces spikes of small blue flowers. Blue fescue grows to 12 inches tall and 24 inches wide in ideal growing conditions: full or partial sun and well-drained or moist soil.

  • Golden Hakone Grass is Centerpiece for Garden

    Golden Japanese Forest Grass

    This beautiful slow-growing, deciduous grass from Japan deserves to be the centerpiece in a container or a dry gravel border. Its low-arching, thinly striped yellow leaves develop a warm reddish tinge in fall. Cut back in early spring to encourage new growth. Plant Japanese forest grass in full or partial sun and moist soil to help it grow to 10 inches tall and 3 feet wide.

  • Japanese Blood Grass is Fine Summer Foliage Plant

    Japanese Bloodgrass

    The crimson-tipped, 18 inch upright leaves and fluffy white flowerspikes of Japanese blood grass look beautiful backlit by the sun. Grow it in full or partial sun and moist soil; in cold areas, grow it in a container and bring under cover during winter.

  • Hares Tail Grass is Popular Garden Plant

    Hare's Tail Grass

    A popular garden plant because of its fluffy flowerheads, the hare's tail grass is a tufted annual that can be grown easily from seed sown in spring. The soft, hairy spikelets, which mature from pale green to pale cream grow to 20 inches tall; they can be cut for indoor displays. Grow hare's tail grass in full sun and well-drained soil.

  • Ornamental Grass Lasts Through Winter with Display

    Japanese Silver Grass

    No matter the size of your space, there's a Japanese silver grass to suit you. On the smaller side - to 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide - is 'Kleine Silberspinne,' shown here. Its colorful, curving plumes bear silky white and red flower spikes which turn to silver as they age and last all winter. The narrow green leaves of 'Gracillimus' take on a bronzy hue as temperatures cool. Deciduous 'Zebrinus' has unusual horizontal bands of pale cream variegation; it looks especially good in a large zinc planter.

    If you have more space, consider 'Malepartus,' which grows to 6 feet tall and 6 feet eide. One of the easiest Japanese silver grasses to establish, the cascading green leaves and feathery reddish-brown flowerheads of 'Malepartus' look good spilling onto a lawn or path edge. Even taller, to 8 feet, 'Silberfeder' is grown mainly for its fall show of long-lasting red-tinged, creamy flowers, which look particularly stunning in front of a dark-leaved hedge.

    Japanese silver grass needs full sun and well-drained or moist soil to flourish.

  • Black Mondo Grass Appearance Dominates the Garden

    Black Mondo Grass

    Few plants are as deeply colored as clump-forming, tufted perennial black mondo grass. Although not strictly a grass, its appearance and habit make it useful in gardens that feature grasses. It also looks dramatic in pale-colored containers. Small, pale purplish-white flowers appear in summer. Black mondo grass grows to 8 inches tall and 12 inches wide in ideal growing conditions: full or partial sun and well-drained or moist soil.

  • Blue Switch Grass has Stiff Upright Foliage

    'Heavy Metal' Switch Grass

    'Heavy Metal' switch grass is a deciduous perennial grass with stiff, upright, steely gray-green leaves. In favorable conditions - full sun and well-drained soil - the foliage will turn yellow in fall, gradually fading to pale brown in winter. Wispy flowerheads bearing purple-green flowers emerge during summer. 'Heavy Metal' switch grass will grow to 3 feet tall and 30 inches wide, and makes a strong impact planted in clumps of threes or fives.

  • Fountain Grass Tumbles and Flows Like a Fountain

    Fountain Grass

    Fountain grass is an evergreen perennial whose narrow, mid-green leaves tumble from the center of the plant, to 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It needs a warm, sheltered, sunny site with well-drained soil since it is not fully hardy.

  • Gardeners Garters is Vigorous, Spreading Plant

    Ribbon Grass

    Ribbon grass is a vigorous plant, useful for lightening a moist, partially shady corner or filling out a cottage garden. Trim untidy leaves in late summer to maintain a neat look. New plantlets will spread indefinitely if the clump is not kept in check, so grow ribbon grass in a container sunk into the ground if you want to limit its spread.

  • Vivax Bamboo is Vigorous and Fast Growing Plant


    The architectural stems of bamboo blend ambiance and function. Golden vivax bamboo, shown here, is a vigorous, fast-growing plant with slim, arching foliage that can reach to 25 feet tall. Phyllostachys aureosulcata f. aureocaulis is a shorter alternative to golden vivax bamboo, good for creating a yellow screen. If you have a sleek, modern looking garden, the distinctive stems of black bamboo - which turn from green to glossy black - may be a better choice. It has a tall, upright habit that is most impactful in a border, or in blocks.

    Most bamboos can tolerate a variety of conditions: full or partial sun and well-drained or moist soil. They tend to be vigorous growers that can easily take over a space if left to their own devices. Plant them in large containers, or surround the plants' roots below soil level with an impenetrable barrier to control their spread.

  • Mexican Feather Plant Gently Waves in Light Breeze

    Feather Grass

    Neat, compact, deciduous feather grass, shown here, produces soft, 24 inch tall summertime stems with green flowerheads that fade to buff. Its fall seedheads are very attractive to birds. Giant feather grass is similar, but super-sized to 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It commands a prime position in a raised bed or mixed border in full sun, where its tall, fluttering plumes of flowers emerge from transparent stems, allowing shorter plants to be seen behind them. Make sure feather grasses are placed in well-drained soil.

Excerpted from Garden Design

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

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