Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses continue to grow in popularity. They look great both summer and winter and have so much going for them as a garden plant. Most Ornamental grasses are easy to grow and maintain, many are as tough as old boots and yet they are graceful, elegant 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 make me as lyrical as I can be about any garden plant. They look good grouped together, but are also ideal planting companions. If you are not growing grasses now, I hope this page, the images here and on Pinterest will inspire you to do so. The Pinterest pages have lots of images of the different types of Ornamental grasses to choose from. There are too many to fit on this web page.  

The new garden at RHS Bridgewater has made extensive and inspired use of grasses in the planting. A visit in later in the summer will not disappoint when the grasses are at their best. There are some images of RHS Bridgewater's grasses on the Pinterest page. 

Grasses look terrific in the winter when the frost catches them. For this reason, it is always worth planting some grasses where they will be in sun in winter. The combination of frost and sun makes the grasses sparkle. There are images of Ornamental Grasses in winter which illustrated this point.

Ornamental grasses are a diverse bunch.  Some grasses are at their best in late spring and early summer, such as Phalaris arundinacea (common name Gardeners garter.) This grass flowers in the summer and is ideal for pond margins. Other grasses, such as Stipa gigantea, flower later and are at their best from late summer onwards.

Often included within the classification of grasses are those which are technically sedges such as Carex elata 'Aurea' Bowles' golden sedge which is a lovely golden sedge, and will grow in pond margins and borders.  "Ornamental Grasses" is an imprecise term and if you are planting grasses, it is important to check the plant label to assess if it is suitable. 

  Listed below are some of the most popular, and easy to grow grasses. It is always worth checking the frost hardy rating of the grass before setting your heart on it as many offered for sale look just great, but often are not fully hardy, which can be a problem in some parts of the UK. I have noticed quite a few Ornamental grasses offered for sale at garden centres which are not fully hardy, very attractive and a compelling purchase, but the label does not make it clear. Anything on which the label says "needs winter protection" is not likely to be hardy and will need care over the winter.

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.

Stipa Tenuissima

Ornamental grass stipa  tenuissima with fluffy soft plumes

Of all the different Ornamental grasses Stipa tenuissima is a favourite and 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  illustrated top right, with Dierama, Angel's fishing rod and 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 Gigantea

Stipa gigantea

Another commonly grown Stipa is S. 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. It is semi-evergreen, and it is best to remove dead leaves in spring. Whilst the growing conditions described are the ideal conditions, I have several self seeded S. Gigantea, which are growing in a boggy area next to the stream. S. Gigantea is a tough plant which will tolerate diverse growing conditions. 

Molinia common name Purple Moor Grass

Ornamental grass  Molinia common name Purple Moor Grass

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

It is hard to capture on camera how this grass will shimmer and  M.caerulea is 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 are a group of a popular Ornamental 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 is grown for its lovely striking plumes,  but it is worth bearing in mind that in the winter, the wind and weather will bash at the plumes. This tends to scatter 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 below left also known as Zebra grass, 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. 

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.

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 this mage 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

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 and websites appear to state the hardy rating of a grass and this is very important.

Illustrated left is the very popular Ornamental grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides commonly known as fountain grass  'Red head' which look just fabulous but it is H3 rating which means it is only hardy in mild or coastal areas,  and will require winter protection and liable to be killed off 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,  check out                                                                                

Ice attractions Grasses in Winter


Last updated 104.10.21