Mid to late summer can still produce stunning plants. I know a lot of your summer favourites are finished or having a rest before the autumn flush, but there are lots of good hardy perennials to choose from.
If you’re looking for a plant with architectural qualities, a hint of the exotic and very low requirements for care, then ornamental grasses could be your answer. Flowering grasses provide a spectacle in the garden that far outweighs their demands for care, or their initial investment. Many, including Imperata, Pennisetum and Miscanthus are said to be ‘trouble free’ and they can bring pleasure year after year. They’re also fantastic for softening up hard landscaping, perhaps on a new-build site.
The range of ornamental grasses available these days means that you can find something for every situation. In even the smallest garden you should be able to plant specimens of several different species/varieties. The taller species and varieties offer the promise of sensory reward from the movement and sound as breezes sough through the leaves. Shorter grasses are suitable for container planting.
Here is a flavour of the wide variety of shapes and sizes on offer. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ (silver feather) can develop stems as long as 2.5m that remain as an attractive garden feature through winter. The leaves of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ are shorter (reaching about 1.2m), but the creamy horizontal banding they exhibit can make them appear stippled in sunshine on cloudy days. Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’, also known as the ‘Red Baron’, is another spectacular grass. It’s a clump-forming plant and the leaves are shorter, at about 40cm, but they turn red from the tips of the stems downwards, almost as far as the base. Penisetum villosum (also known as feathertop) is an example of a wonderful perennial grass that produces soft, feathery heads in late summer and early autumn.
Ornamental grasses combine well with other plants. Autumn flowering plants, for example, asters, helianthus or chrysanthemums make good partners, but foliage plants can also be effective alongside more subtle grasses. For example a side-by-side blend of the foliage of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ and Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ can be a delightful and understated combination.
Most grasses are easy to grow and will thrive in even poorer soils, though they do tend to need a full sun position. Once established they will perform year after year with the minimum of intervention and have low water requirements, making them perfect for drought-prone areas. However, if you want to do your best by them, feed in spring with a general purpose fertilizer. They’re sufficiently sturdy to survive the odd ball being kicked through them, which makes them the ideal choice for a family garden.
Grasses bring a soft and sympathetic element to the garden and don’t need a lot of water or care. The flowers add colour and contrasting shape and texture. These can all allowed to grow in amongst each other, and the effect gets better each year. Cut them all back at the end of the winter to let the new growth come through, then enjoy the fresh foliage, developing flowers and then the wonderful summer colour. When all is done the grass and flower seed heads provide food for the birds as well a great winter display.