Design a garden to suit all four seasons

Design a garden to suit all four seasons


Life & Style
Sunlight catches the flower heads of Miscanthus 'Cosmopolitan' and 'Flamingo' at Wild Meadows, Stephen Vella's Little Hartley garden.

Sunlight catches the flower heads of Miscanthus 'Cosmopolitan' and 'Flamingo' at Wild Meadows, Stephen Vella's Little Hartley garden.

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Ornamental grasses are wonderful plants for the four seasons garden.

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Ornamental grasses are wonderful plants for the four seasons garden.

A mature clump is the structural equivalent of a large shrub, its slender leaves, either upright or gracefully drooping, contrast with the rounded, oval or lacey foliage of many perennials, and buff coloured seed heads blend with flowers and berries of every colour.

READ MORE:Add a touch of formality to your garden

Country gardeners have long loved ornamental grasses, edging borders with blue fescue (F. glauca), planting stripey gardeners' garters (Phalaris arundinaceae 'Variegata') among bulbs and even, dare I say it, indulging in an occasional ginormous clump of pampas grass as a lawn feature.

A great breakthrough for grasses has been the increase in the number and availability of sterile cultivars, which for obvious reasons are a far safer choice. Even if you're not on the land, remember that wind, water and birds all transport seeds.

Superstar Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf pioneered the use of grasses in Europe, planting in sweeps and drifts among other ground-covering perennials chosen for the longest possible season of interest, with striking foliage and forms rather than ephemeral flower colour.

NSW horticulturist and gardener Stephen Vella has incorporated ornamental grasses in his three-acre country garden Wild Meadows for structure and year-round appeal.

Valuing each season for the changes it brings, he looks for plants that are not only striking at their peak but retain their charm for a long period as they wither and die.

A great breakthrough for grasses has been the increase in the number and availability of sterile cultivars, which for obvious reasons are a far safer choice. - Fiona Ogilvie

In its own way, Stephen's landscape is close to Edna Walling's ideal that every garden should be large enough to have some wild corners and the sense of decline followed by renewal is central to his gardening. His goal in winter is a landscape that is lovely in decay.

This is quite another way of looking at a garden - so many gardeners, me included, are perpetually nipping and tucking, removing spent flower heads, ruthlessly cutting perennials to the ground as they fade, endlessly reshaping the garden so it always appears fresh.

Ornamental grasses have no need for any of this. A clump will put on most of its growth in September and October before developing flower heads. It then changes colour gradually over summer through autumn and winter, but rarely looks ragged or in need of trimming.

Large clumps of various tall grasses comprise about 10 per cent of Stephen Vella's perennial borders. He leaves them until the end of August before cutting to the ground and spreading as mulch.

A handy tip when cutting a large clump is to tie a group of stalks together with string first, like bunching parsley before you chop it. Small clumps are mown down with a whipper snipper.

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