Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental and Garden Grasses

 it is easy to see why 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, grasses shimmer and dance; in the winter they sparkle in the frost and snow. 

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 different types of grasses, too many to fit on this web page.  

Grasses do 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.

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 problem in some parts of the UK. 

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

   Stipa Tenuissima and Gigantea  

This image is of Stipa Tenuissima, 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 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 Alliums. 

Another commonly grown Stipa is illustrated top left, in its winter form, covered with frost is S. Gigantea commonly known as Golden Oates which grows best in moderately fertile soil with good light and 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 these 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 so they are tough. 

   Molinia common name Purple Moor Grass  

  This is an easy to grow, tough and a trouble-free grass will grow in most places. This grass prefers soil to be on moist side but has the benefit that it will grow in partial shade and fully hardy.  

It is hard to capture on camera, this variety of grass really does shimmer/ M.caerulea is known as Purple Moor grass as it has a real mauve hue to it.

All Molinia have a fine shimmering look and good Autumn colour. 

Fully hardy it grows best on neutral to acid soils, and is really tough which makes it a good plant for a more difficult area.


Miscanthus is sold widely in garden centers 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. 

Illustrated right is another variety of Miscanthus, very handsome M. sinensis 'Positano' which has the most 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.

Note that in the winter, the wind and weather will bash at the plumes and can make a bit of a garden mess, for clearing up.


Another Miscanthus this is M. nelapalensis which has lovely soft plumes and here is making a feathered entrance to a path. 


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. 

The importance of Hardiness rating

   There are some fabulous grasses on sale in the garden centers and on line, but some are not fully hardy which can be problem in many parts of the UK. Not all plant labels and web site appear to state the hardy rating of a grass and this is very important. Illustrated is the very popular Pennisetum alopecuroides commonly known as fountain grass and Pennisetum alopecuroides  'Red head' which look just fabulous but they are both H3 rating which means it is only hardy in mild or coastal areas, will require winter protection and liable to be killed off by winter weather. Plants are expensive and its 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. 

Pennisetum require a well drained soil in full sun and are best cut back in the spring.

More about Ornamental Grasses

For more about grasses 

check out

Grass planting combinations

Ice attractions grasses in Winter

Pinterest Boards illustrating Wonderful grasses and a great place to see grasses in all types of settings is the Hillier garden in Hampshire.