On trend: rare and high grasses

Let me start this article with a quote from Karl Foerster: "How terrible a garden without grasses!"

Grasses are delicate plants of extraordinary beauty, to which we have devoted a large area in the gardens of Dennenlohe Castle. Their variety and abundance of shapes and flowers have seen them become firm favourites of ours in the garden. Ornamental grasses are perennials featuring a stalk, long narrow leaves and flower heads in the shape of ears or panicles with inconspicuous flowers.

The genus of grasses includes three families: sweet grasses (= Poaceae), sour grasses (= Cyperaceae) and rushes (= Junaceae). All three can be found at Dennenlohe. Grasses can spread in the garden both via seeds and via roots. Most ornamental grasses grow in tussocks, i.e. the blades and flowers sprout from a base that thickens as it ages, which is how the grass spreads. However, some ornamental grasses spread by means of rhizomes, i.e. the grass forms long, subterranean roots that extend out horizontally under the ground, and in some cases above the ground, from the actual plant. These roots then form a new plant some distance away from the mother plant. Bamboo is a grass that forms rhizomes to spread. Rampantly growing rhizomatous ornamental grasses need a rhizome barrier around them, similar to the one we have created around our bamboo island.

Ornamental grasses come in ground-covering varieties as well as giant grasses. The elegant lines of their leaves and beautiful shapes of their flower heads mean that we often showcase the grasses in the park as a stand-alone element in the landscape, because they change their appearance every season and are also easy to care for.

In summer, they show off their pretty flower heads. In autumn, the golden-coloured stalks of grass moving gently in the wind capture our attention. And in winter, decorated with hoar frost, they are a thing of beauty. Their only active period is spring - this is when you sometimes need to cut them back or separate tussocks, otherwise grasses are very easy to care for.

Grasses should feature in every perennial bed. They bring a delicate lightness and movement to the bed and their linear structure make them suitable for formal gardens as well as semi-natural landscaped gardens. They go with roses and perennials like asters, Rudbeckia, Helenium or heathers. Gardens consisting entirely of grasses are also gaining in popularity. For example, we have created several mounds that are home to different, rare ornamental grasses purchased this summer at the Les Journées des Plantes event in Chantilly in France.

Grasses are also indispensable in the prairie garden, which recreates the wide open landscape of America. When combined with perennial sunflowers (Helianthus), Lindheimer's beeblossom and verbena, the overall effect is one of beauty.


Baron Robert von Süsskind
VIKING garden expert