Use These Breezy Leaves and Fluffy Flowerhads to Bring a Modern Flourish to Your Garden
Should there ever be an official chart of plants most-loved in a modern garden, then fountain grasses would grab the number one spot week in, week out. They’re sophisticated, simple and elegant but have rugged good looks, too, so they fit in with all sorts of planting schemes and colour palettes. And they’re dead easy to look after, needing very little in the way of care and attention – just leave them to get on with swaying their fluffy flowerheads in the breeze and looking brazenly beautiful! Of all the ornamental grasses, the fountain grasses – otherwise known as pennisetums – are our favourites because they’re so versatile.
They make a stylish statement whether as a single plant in a gravel area, planted en masse or mixed with airy blooms. Being heat lovers, they’re happy in a container too. And unlike some grasses, pennisetums don’t hide their light under a bushel – they plug it firmly into the mains electricity and brashly flounce it in your face! Their large flowerheads appear in such copious quantities throughout summer that they look like they’re cascading down the plant, hence their name. Even when the flowers fade, the seedheads add colour and structure throughout autumn and winter, adding a final sparkle in spring frosts. Unlike many other types of grasses, it’s not all about green, and you can take your pick from some fabulous tones. ‘Fireworks’ has burgundy-red leaves with pink edges and red flower plumes. ‘Rubrum’ has deep red to burgundy leaves with purple-red spikes. ‘Sky Rocket’ produces white-edged green leaves and cream-red blooms.
‘Cherry Sparkler’ has variegated green and cream leaves tipped with bright pink and long feathery flowerheads in shades of red and purple, and ‘Hameln Gold’ has spectacular yellow leaves with greenish-white flower spikes.
PICK HEALTHY PLANTS
The more common varieties are widely available from garden centres, nurseries and DIY stores, but if you want a more unusual one, then you’ll need to buy it online. Choose plants with a rounded clump of strong, healthy leaves, and reject any with lots of off-colour or yellowing leaves – give any with.
ADD A STYLISH EDGE
Cut a few stems to add to a vase of zinnias and antirrhinums, where they’ll last for weeks on end. You can use them fresh or dried to add a graceful, airy swish. dead or bare centres a miss too. If you can, carefully turn the plant upside down and ease off the pot – you want to see a good mix of compost and roots, rather than a swirl of jam-packed roots.
KEEP THEM ALIVE
While some varieties grow in partial or light shade, all of them will enjoy life more in full sun. They’re not too fussy about soil type, as long as it remains moist in summer and well drained in winter, so dig in lots of bulky organic matter, such as planting compost or Verve Soil Improver (£4.37, diy.com) and, if you’ve got heavy clay soil, some sharp sand.
HELP THEM THRIVE
To encourage good strong growth and lots of healthy leaves and flower spikes, water well during prolonged dry weather. Feed in spring with a controlled-release fertiliser such as Miracle-Gro All Purpose Continuous Release Plant Food (£5, wilko.com). Add a generous layer of compost or mulch around the plants in autumn, and cut back old leaves in early spring.
PLANT A MEADOW
A mass of fountain grass makes a bold statement and it’s so easy to look after! This modern take on a traditional meadow softens the sleek, straight lines of a contemporary design perfectly.
RAISE THEM UP
Make room for more blooms in already packed borders by displaying them in pots supported on stout posts. For permanent pot displays, use John Innes No 3 Compost, rather than multi-purpose as it dries out more slowly.
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