How to Grow Ornamental, Decorative and Garden Grasses

Grasses are a popular garden choice, most being easy to grow and maintain. 

Ornamental Grasses make me as lyrical as I can be about any garden plant. They are so tactile, graceful and create movement in the border. On a summer's day, with the light behind them, ornamental grasses shimmer and dance. In the winter, they sparkle in the frost and snow. Ornamental grasses look good grouped together, but are also ideal planting companions. I hope the images here and on Pinterest will inspire you to plant some grasses.

The new garden at RHS Bridgewater has inspirational planting of grasses. A visit in later in the summer when the grasses are at their best is fantastic. There are lots of images to prove this on my RHS Bridgewater Pinterest page. 

Grasses also look terrific in the winter when the frost catches them. For this reason, it is always worth planting grasses where the winter frost and sun will make the grasses sparkle. Ornamental Grasses in winter illustrate this point. 

Ornamental Grasses mix well with a host of garden plants. Check out Best grass planting combinations and also Pinterest board with lots of inspirational images on growing grasses.

Food for thought a variety of grasses

Designing with Ornamental Grasses 10 of the Best easy to grow Grasses

  Listed below are some of the most popular, and easy to grow grasses. These are all readily available online and in garden centres and I have only included grasses which are fully hardy. 

It is always worth checking the frost hardy rating of the grass before setting your heart on it. Some grasses on sale maybe spectacular, and trendy, but not fully hardy, which can be a problem in the UK. If the label says "needs winter protection"  it is not likely to be hardy and will need care over the winter. This will usually mean covering with some form of protection during cold periods, and removing cover during milder spells. Illustrated above left is an example, commonly known as Fountain grass with its tufted plumes. It is very popular, but alas, not hardy. 

Ornamental Grasses mix well with a host of garden plants.

Check out Best grass planting combinations and grasses in winter.

also Pinterest board with lots of inspirational images of grasses and combination planting to try. 

Stipa Tenuissima

Ornamental grass stipa  tenuissima with fluffy soft plumes

Of all the different Ornamental grasses, Stipa tenuissima is a favourite. A fabulous-looking grass with many very fluffy flower heads. It is so tactile, impossible to walk past without stroking it. S. Tenuissima is fully hardy and fast growing up to around .6m. It needs nothing more than a trim back in the spring and a sunny, well-drained spot. S. Tenuissima is also illustrated right image, with Dierama, Angel's fishing rod. S.tenuissima looks good with many garden plants including late flowering perennials such as Echinacea purpurea, Helenium and with Allium sphaerocephalon, which is the late flowering variety . 

Stipa calamagrostis

Ornamental grass Stipa calamagrostis

Also known as peasant grass, this is another very tactile, multi stemmed variety of Stipa. The plumes are soft and become more open as the plant flowers. Just visible in the images is Verbascum an ideal planting companion.

S. calamagrostis grows to around 1.2 metres, it is fully  hardy and grows best in a sunny spot. It will die back over winter and any remaining stop growth can be cut back in early spring, ready for the new growth.

Stipa Gigantea

Stipa gigantea

Another commonly grown grass is Stipa Gigantea, known as Golden Oats, which grows best in moderately fertile soil with plenty of sun. Gigantea, as the name suggests, is large grass which grows up to 2.5m with large Oat like flower heads. I took this image at RHS Bridgewater where the Stipa looks effective towering over mixed planting in a border.

It is semi-evergreen, and it is best to remove dead leaves in spring. The growing conditions described above are the ideal conditions, but it is a tough grass tolerant of many different types of growing conditions. I have several self seeded S. Gigantea, which are growing in a boggy area next to the stream. 

Pennisetum orientale 'Shogun'

Pennisetum orientale 'Shogun'

An arching grasses with light pink spikes which turn a shade of red/tan as the summer progresses. Also known as fountain grass, because of its arching habit, it is easy to grow in any conditions apart from damp/boggy conditions. It is best in full sun.

This variety of Pennisetum is fully hardy and will grow to around 1.2 m.

Molinia common name Purple Moor Grass

Ornamental grass  Molinia common name Purple Moor Grass

 One of the easiest Ornamental grasses to grow of is Molinia, a tough and trouble-free grass, making it ideal for planting troublesome parts of the garden. It will grow in most places. It will grow in partial shade and it is fully hardy.  

It is hard to capture on camera how this grass will shimmer and M.caerulea  known as Purple Moor grass as it has a delicate mauve hue to it. All Molinia grasses have a fine shimmering look and good Autumn colour. 


Miscanthus is a group of a popular decorative grasses and widely available in most garden centres. Illustrated below are M. sinensis zebrinus, also known as zebra grass, and below right M. sinensis 'Positano', which has the most attractive light purple flower heads.

Miscanthus has lovely striking plumes, but it is worth bearing in mind that in the winter, the wind and weather will bash at the plumes. This scatters the plume debris all around and can make a bit of a garden mess, and extra work clearing up.

M. sinensis zebrinus,

Popular ornamenal grass Misacantus sinensis zebrinus

Miscanthus is sold widely in garden centres and M. sinensis zebrinus, illustrated also known as Zebra grass, and has become a very popular. Admired for its striped leaves, it has plumes in summer which are not dissimilar to the now relegated Pampas grass. 

M. sinensis 'Positano

Less common Ornamental grass M. sinensis 'Positano

Another variety of Miscanthus, the very handsome M. sinensis 'Positano' which has the attractive light purple flower heads. It is fully hardy and is best planted in a sunny spot, apart from which all it needs is a trim in the spring. Miscanthus is tolerant of most soils as long as it is not too wet.

Misacanthus nelapalensis


Another Miscanthus this is M. nelapalensis which has lovely soft plumes and here is making a feathered entrance to a path. It is best grown in full sun, is very hardy H6 in any type of soil as long as its not too wet. 

Deschampsia cespitosa

Ornamental Grass  deschampsia

This is Deschampsia cespitosa which makes clouds of tiny panicles and is fully hardy. It is easy to grow tolerating both dry and damp soils, and partial shade.

Calamgrostis x acutiflora 'karl Foerster'

Calamgrostis x acutiflora 'karl Foerster' feather reed grass

Calamgrostis x acutiflora 'karl Foerster'  common name, feather reed grass. A tall grass which turns darker brown as the season progress through into autumn. It is fully hardy, and herbaceous grow in sun or partial shade and looks especially in winter when the stems are a strong bronze colour.

Carex elata 'Aurea' Bowles golden sedge


Technically, a sedge not a grass, Carex elata 'Aurea' Bowles common name golden sedge has bright greenish yellow foliage with an arching habit.

It is very tough, will tolerate partial shade, and wet conditions ideal for a damp area, streamside or next to pond. It is fully hardy to H6.

Let go of your lawn

Natural lawn grasses

If you want to start a grass garden without all the expense of buying lots of different grasses, why not let your lawn grow?

Illustrated in the image and video is "ordinary" lawn grass left to grow longer and it makes a lovely feature. The grass flowers in June, has little or no air miles and involves less mowing, definitely worth a try.

The importance of the hardy rating

Ornamental grass Pennisetum alopecuroides
Pennisetum alopecuroides

There are some fabulous ornamental grasses on sale in the garden centres and online, but some are not fully hardy, which can be a problem in many parts of the UK. Not all plant labels make clear the hardy rating of a grass and this is very important.

Illustrated left is a  very popular Ornamental grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides, commonly known as fountain grass 'Red head' which looks just fabulous. But it is H3 rating, which means it is only hardy in mild or coastal areas, and will require winter protection without which it is liable to be killed by winter weather. Plants are expensive and it's very disappointing when they do not come back the following year. It's not just a question of right place right plant, the Hardiness rating is critical. 

More About Ornamental Grasses

For more about Ornamental Grasses, check out the Best Plant and Grass Combinations for ideas on the best planting combinations.

To see how lovely grasses can look in winter                                                           

Ice attractions Grasses in Winter

page updated 09.01.2024