Inspiration for designing with grasses

Grasses are loved for their natural beauty, versatility and elegance and rightly earn their place as indispensable plants in a garden. They can play a key part in a variety of design situations, and provide a stylish and dependable presence in the garden throughout the year which makes them especially valuable. We look at some great ways that grasses have been used in garden designs.

Blocks of Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldschleier’ are used in a minimalist and contemporary design. The gold flower heads contrast with the dark background and harmonise with the rich copper and buttery tones of the surrounding planting.

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A path winds itself through blocks of tall grasses and drifts of perennials in this garden designed by Dan Pearson.

Grasses are expertly interwoven amongst perennials in this contemporary courtyard garden by Tom Stuart Smith.

A more restful and relaxed planting scheme of grasses and herbaceous perennials by Tom Stuart Smith (above) and an informal herbaceous border by Dan Pearson (below) with grasses and perennials beautifully combined.

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Stipa tenuissima add a light and airy feel to this country garden border (above), whilst Stipa gigantea are used as a focal point in this dry gravel garden (below).

Grasses form an integral part of this traditional herbaceous border at RHS Wisley, and provide rhythm and repetition to the planting.

Grasses combined together can result in some effective planting combinations where the interest is provided by the contrasting textures.

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Sprays of shimmering flowerheads punctuate the planting of this garden by Piet Oudolf in the prairie style.

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The ethereal qualities of grasses can give a planting scheme drama and beauty, and provide a perfect foil for contrasting plant forms such as the spires and round flower heads below.

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The textural qualities of grasses add movement and life to a border. In this garden of Christopher Bradley Hole, grasses billow out on to the gravel path (above), and the flower heads provide a golden haze above the lower growing foliage (below).

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Some of the most desirable and useful grasses are:

Anemanthele lessoniana

The pheasants tail grass has a pleasing arching habit. It has purple tinged flower spikes in summer and the evergreen leaves turn a rust brown in winter.

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’

A taller grass with an upright habit, Calamagrostis lends an architectural presence to the garden and can be used to add a strong vertical line to planting. Its useful in a variety of design situations and great for providing winter interest.

Deschampsia cespitosa

The tufted hair grass is a clump forming grass with a cloud of flowers. Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldschleier’ and the shorter ‘Goldtau’ put on a display of shimmering gold flowers.

Hakonechloa macra

A beautiful slow growing evergreen grass with a clump forming habit. It is useful in a variety of design situations. H. macra ‘Aureola’ has arching lime green thinly striped leaves.

Luzula sylvatica

The great woodrush is lower growing with strap like evergreen leaves. It can be useful as ground cover or as front of border planting.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’

This is a very useful grass that can provide a structural element to a scheme. It has a mass of narrow curved green leaves with white midribs and a graceful presence in winter.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’

M. sinensis ‘Malepartus’ has a cascade of green foliage and feathery coppery brown flowerheads from late summer. It’s considered one of the easiest of the miscanthus to establish.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’

Similar in appearance to M. sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ but with a more upright habit. Its eye catching variegation make it an interesting focal point plant for the border or container.

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’

A taller grass with an open growth habit, ‘Transparent’ has a haze of flower heads that move with the wind.

Panicum virgatum ‘Rehbraun’

Panicum virgatum ‘Rehbraun’ has beautiful autumn colour when its leaves turn red. This grass is good in any garden soil in full sun.

Stipa gigantea

A large grass that grows into broad evergreen clumps with long stems and oat like flowers. Flowers from early summer to late summer.

Stipa tenuissima

This neat and compact grass has soft feathery stems with pale green flowerheads and the fine leaves gently wave in the slightest breeze. A great grass for providing interest through movement.

Inspiration and photo credits:

Tom Stuart Smith

Dan Pearson

Piet Oudolf

Christopher Bradley Hole

All other photography: copyright Garden Design Eye


Hampton Court Highlights

Now that the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is over for another year, we take a look at some of this years Show Gardens. 

We begin with the garden that was awarded Best Show Garden and a Gold medal “I am, because of who we are” designed by Caroline Comber with Petra Horackova. This garden featured a series of interlocking circles each filled with a single plant species.

The simple planting consists of a series of Betula albosinensis underplanted with plants in a colour scheme of whites, bronzes and creams. Plants featured include foxgloves such as Digitalis parviflora “Milk Chocolate” and Digitalis purpurea “Camelot Cream”, and blocks of grasses such as Stipa tenuissima, Briza media and Deschampsia cespitosa “Goldschleier”.

The Outer Space Garden designed by Bruce Waldock had a Japanese inspired theme with a “Bauble” capsule as a central point of interest. Elements typical of Japanese gardens included rich purple leaved Acers, clipped Box balls, stepping stones and raked gravel (uniquely resin bonded). This garden achieved a Silver medal.

The Copella Garden was once again designed by Sadie May Stowell and was awarded a Silver Gilt medal this year. At the heart of the garden is a contemporary wooden sculpture surrounded by a relaxed planting scheme of perennials, annuals and grasses, with plants that attract pollinating insects incorporated throughout.

The WWF’s 50th anniversary garden designed by Fiona Stephenson was based on the beauty of a chalk stream. The garden has naturalistic wildflower planting punctuated with modern art and sculptures and includes plants typically found around chalk streams or in alkaline soils.

A key aspect of any strong show garden is if it gives the visitor the feeling that it’s an established part of the landscape and this garden achieved that. The WWF garden was deservedly given a Silver Gilt medal.

The Vestra Wealth’s Grays Garden designed by Paul Martin had a 1920’s style pavilion as a focal point and was awarded a Gold medal. The simple and clean hard landscaping is complemented by refined blocks of planting in cool blues, creams and greens, with drifts of Agapanthus and Carex oshimensis.

A complete contrast to the calmness of Paul Martins garden is the “A Matter of Urgency” garden designed by Jill Foxley with its vivid pink walls and brightly coloured planting scheme. This garden was cleverly divided into different areas using screens, concrete rendered walls and clipped box hedges.

This garden was simply bursting at the seams with a whole host of plants; Eryngiums, Delphiniums, Achillea, Monarda, Salvia, Rudbeckia, Crocosmia, Calendula, Dahlia and Agapanthus were all included. The garden was awarded a Silver Gilt medal.

A garden with a more conceptual feel that was attracting a fair amount of admirers was the “World Vision” garden designed by FlemonsWarland Design.

This is a particularly impressive example of how the use of strong central shapes can deliver a memorable garden. In this case an inverted dome and a concave dome were used with the underlying message being that one dome represents the prosperous nations of the world that have, and the other indicative of the nations of the world that have not.

We end with the garden awarded Peoples Choice and Silver Gilt, and a personal favourite of ours; “The Stockman’s Retreat” designed by Chris Beardshaw. This garden looked beautiful, had a stunning array of plants, different planting areas, a stream, and well executed hard landscaping.

Particularly eye catching was the complex mix of herbaceous planting at the front of the garden that included Salvia nemerosa “Amethyst”, Veronicastrum virginicum “Pink Glow” and Monarda “Gardenview Scarlet”.

For a list of all the show garden awards visit and for more about the show itself

Photography: copyright Garden Design Eye