From wispy fountains of rustling leaves to stands of colorful poles
topped with feathery foliage, grasses and bamboos lend stature and drama
to any planting design. Learn how to add them to your garden with this helpful guide.
Injecting Color and Form
Planting flowers isn't the only way to ensure a broad spectrum of color in your garden: bamboo varieties are available with beautiful purple, ice-blue, gold, or black stems. Some, like the blue-stemmed Borinda papyrifera and Phyllostachys, measure up to 15 feet in height and provide a fantastic way to add color and drama to your outdoor space if you have the room to make the most of them.
Grasses can also add a splash of color, and unusual cultivars make great
focus plants. Look for varieties with striking yellow stripes or
spectacular scarlet tips, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ or the
scarlet-tipped Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’.
Providing Textural Container Displays
Grasses make exceptional container specimens, either planted on their
own or together with annuals and perennials in mixed displays. Add
structure and interest to patio designs with a mix of tall leafy
fountains, golden flowing types, and those with long, soft flowerheads,
and bronze or blue-gray foliage. Bamboos also look great in containers
but are very demanding, requiring plenty of water all year round.
Creating Screens and Hedges
Densely planted bamboos make unusual hedges and are outstanding windbreaks. Use non-invasive types such as Fargesia and Phyllostachys, planted in the ground or grown in containers. Seek expert advice, because invasive types can be very difficult to eradicate.
Some deciduous grasses, including Miscanthus sinensis, can also be used
for screening. Their dried stems and flowers will still provide cover in
the winter but need to be cut down in the spring, when the plants offer
no shelter for a few weeks before the new growth takes over.
Soft grass species provide the perfect foil for bright annual meadow flowers. Alternatively, use them on their own to produce a summer hay meadow with feathery flowers and decorative seedheads. As well as looking beautiful and needing to be mowed just one or two times a year, depending on the type you choose, meadow grass also provides the perfect habitat for insects and invertebrates. The grasses are usually available in seed form and should be planted as for a meadow.
Adding Interest to Mixed Displays
Both deciduous and evergreen grasses provide a textural contrast to perennials and offer an airy foil to blocks of shrubs. Tall grasses make excellent backdrops to herbaceous plantings in sunny areas, while well-behaved bamboos that do not spread too rapidly perform a similar function — but do keep an eye on their growth. There are many beautiful grasses and sedges for the middle of beds, including those with see-through stems; low-growing Carex and fescues are perfect for the front of a display.