Gardening: Motion Pictures ; Grasses Bring Movement as Well as Variety to the Autumn Border. Ursula Buchan Rolls the Credits
Buchan, Ursula, The Independent (London, England)
GRACE, ESPECIALLY grace under pressure, is a virtue we value as much in plants as in people. At this time of year, with the winds beginning to pick up speed, the garden can seem a restless place, as branches and foliage are tossed and bent this way and that. Not all of this movement is graceful, indeed it can be downright clumsy, but almost all the perennial "ornamental" grasses, especially those which flower in late summer and autumn, seem never less than fluid and sleek in their movements.
This is one of the reasons why we like them so much. Even on still days, the leaves of Stipa tenuissima will dip their arching tips, while the inflorescences of S. calamagrostis nod slightly, as if to an unregarded acquaintance. Still or restless, Miscanthus `Silberfeder' draws the eye across the garden, especially when September sunlight falls on the silvery panicles of "flowers"; while the steel-blue foliage of Helictotrichon sempervirens contrasts most agreeably with the lime-green flowers of Nicotiana langsdorffii, and the yellow variegations of Miscanthus sinensis `Zebrinus' remain intriguingly even as the foliage colour loses definition with age. There is never a dull moment in a garden where grasses are cherished.
The innate grace of grasses is the reason why they can be so effective in plantings, their airy-fairiness providing a stark contrast to the bold, large-leaved aggression of late-flowering globe artichokes, angelica or echinops. What is more, they have the great virtue that, almost without exception, they die almost as gracefully as they have lived. They range in size from tiny little clumps for the front of border or patio pocket, to three and a half metres tall Pampas grasses but, even when very tall, several are still useful for small spaces. Panicum virgatum, for example, which is tall (two metres) yet upright in habit, and delicate and airy in inflorescence, is invaluable if you are trying to avoid clumpy, midget plantings composed entirely of what the catalogues call, euphemistically, "compact" plants. …