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Now is the time for the graceful, exuberant and tactile grasses, a perfect foil for Rudbeckias, Sedums and Echinaceas. Not only do they give colour and form to the late summer garden, but also lasting interest throughout the winter.
Stipa tenuissima (Mexican Feather Grass) reaches 2 feet and will give beautiful movement in autumn breezes to the border. Sometimes called ‘Pony Tail Grass’ or ‘Angel Hair’, green in spring, by autumn it is a lovely soft gold. The soft brushes of the dwarf Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln' (1½ feet) (aptly named fountain grass or feathertop) carry feathery catkins or the cheeky ‘Little Bunny' (7 inches) are both delightful- great too for arrangements and flower displays. Taller varieties with red colouration are ‘Red Head' (3 feet) or the tender ‘Summer Samba' from Africa- ideally plant this one in a pot, and move inside the greenhouse for winter protection.
A traditional tall grass from the North American prairie and once covering the Great Plains of America is the switchgrass, or Panicum virgatum. P. virgatum ‘Northwind' can make an erect screen of about 5 feet, turning a tawny orange, whereas P. virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ has a steely coloured stem which contrasts well with the pink-purple inflorescence. If you are a flower arranger, or want to dry a flowerhead, you will love P. virgatum ‘Fontaine’- it bursts into life looking just like a Bonfire night sparkler.
Miscanthus malepartus is for making that bold statement, rising to 6 feet, the red-brown silky plumes will shine in the late evening glow. It is a good coastal plant, has an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS and provides nectar and pollen for bees and wildlife! These are just a few of the many varied forms, so don't miss out on the spectacular display that grasses can bring to your garden.
Plant Manager, Tates of Sussex