Designing With Grasses: Book Review
I've always had a bit of a struggle with grasses. Too much tackling couch, then a highly invasive zebra grass at our first house have put me off them somewhat. Then my garden here goes from deep shade through to Mediterranean in just a few steps, so I haven't really managed to see how they'd fit in this garden either.
Helen (Patient Gardener) and Karen (Artist's Garden) find this a rather strange (and amusing!) state of affairs and have done their darndest to get me converted to grasses, with some degree of success. They hatched a sneaky plan at last year's Meet at Malvern and Karen's generous gift of plants meant I could experiment a little. I must concede there are some definite possibilities for succession planting amongst my Aquilegia.
But I'm yet to be fully converted. That is until I started reading Neil Lucas' Designing with Grasses. Neil owns Knoll Gardens in Dorset, famed for its grass specialism. He has a deep understanding of grass communities both in the wild and in cultivation, so is the ideal person to showcase exactly what they can do for a garden. He's very much an advocate of 'right plant right place' and as there are species found in every area of the world, he's confident they have an important role to play in all kinds of situations.
Neil shows us both natural and planted grassland communities which provide structure for just as long as the more familiar woody plants with the added bonus of movement to boot. They're also low-maintenance, tough and provide food and shelter for wildlife. There's lots of well chosen photographs illustrating their versatility and just how diverse this plant group is. I felt my prejudices beginning to crumble.
On top of all this, Neil describes the making of the Decennium border at Knoll, designed to show-off grasses in a naturalistic style, which is a marked departure from our more traditional looking flowerbeds. Instead of the border being at its best for just one season, it's designed to provide interest for a much longer period without the need for staking or dead heading. The resulting combination of grasses with perennials photographed over the growing season well into winter opened my eyes to the possibilities.
There then follows a multitude of recommendations for particular situations such as pots; sun-baked, gravel and drought; woodland and shade; or wet and waterside. Then everything is brought bang up to date by considering particular 'jobs' grasses are good for: erosion control, habitat restoration and green roofs to name but three. Whilst I was reading these chapters and drooling over the photographs, I suddenly found myself looking out the window at our front lawn and thinking hmmm Hakonechloa would look rather good there.
A massive chunk of the second half of the book is the Directory of Grasses and Grass-Like Plants which describe hundreds of possibilities and where they will do best. Notes on their maintenance and a handy guide to planting densities means I will be able to start growing my grasses with confidence once I take the plunge.
I met Neil in May at Malvern where I confessed my problems with liking this group of plants. He smiled and wrote in my review copy:
Hope you enjoy the grasses and become a full convert!
I'm enjoying the conversion very much indeed :)