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Enhancing your garden with the power of ornamental grasses

Aug. 29, 2022 - by Jessica Metropolyt

“Variety is the very spice of life”

In landscape design, ornamental grass is both trendy and timeless. It softens, structures, fills, defines and completes a sensory garden experience. Grasses work efficiently in borders, beds and mass plantings. Thankfully, there are a wide range of grasses available to Canadian gardeners, yet many people do not consider the full extent of what ornamental grasses can do.


Tall and small – they can do it all

Ornamental grasses vary in size by a wide margin, they can be anywhere from six inches to ten feet. Height variation proves useful when establishing a hierarchy in any garden design. Height has the ability to highlight or hide neighboring elements, establishing boundaries within a space. Have an element you want to show off? Put a proportionate grass in its vicinity; see how easy it is for your eye to find it! 


Stunning injections of color

Grasses add subtle and bold color infusion to a scheme. They can be a solid color, two-toned, variegated, or a whole palette of hues. This is desirable when used in tandem with other perennials where colours may be matched or contrasted with one another. A popular colorful grass is Japanese blood grass; sporting a beautiful green blade with a dark red tip. Blue fescue is an opposing example, having cool blue blades. 


Eye-catching florets

Grass blades often produce florets on the top, some with a silk texture and cheerful personality, others more rigid. These florets pair well with other perennials. Adding to the design complexity, they provide subtle colour and form variation. 


All year-round

Uniquely, grasses provide year-round interest in the landscape; they stick around in the winter time! Once the cluster has dried for the winter, the wiry blades catch snowfall to create an upright winter display. Pair them with some evergreens for a stunning winter garden. 


Engaging the senses

Long grasses add a swaying movement to the landscape while shorter grasses have a docile swishing motion. Adding to the sensory experience, grasses produce a tranquil rustling noise when interacting with wind. With stronger wind it may be more of a thrashing. Nevertheless, they are exciting to watch!


Privacy design – simple and effective

Privacy screening is a valuable function of taller grasses which fix themselves in an upright form; a miscanthus will serve this function with its superior height and firm blades. 


Sun and shade lovers

Most ornamental grasses thrive in full sun. They tend to be less thirsty than their shrubby neighbors, so feel free to place them in a hot yet well-drained space. Many grass varieties are drought tolerant – the Karl Forester Reed Grass is one such example. 


Some grasses are even tolerant to the shade! A couple popular shade garden gems are the Sedge and Hakone (Japanese Forest Grass) which both thrive well in part shade conditions. They make excellent rock garden additions. 


Low maintenance, low worries

Low maintenance is a desirable trait for busy gardeners, occupied with deadheading, weeding and watering. You hardly need to touch your grasses in order to keep them fresh – although you really should, grasses have a delightfully smooth texture. To rejuvenate your grasses for the upcoming season, cut back to two inches in the early spring. 


Ornamental grasses provide endless design possibilities that are easily initiated and maintained. With the variety that is available, you are guaranteed to find a beautiful grass that will suit your needs. 

Jessica is studying Landscape Architecture at University of Guelph. She works for Rekker's during the spring and summer in our nursery department.

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