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Our working grass heroes; garden.s With Carol Klein of TV's Gardeners' World There's more to these much overlooked plants than just boring lawns - it's time to turn your borders into a mow-go area.

AQUARTER of a century ago very few gardeners - certainly in the UK - got excited by the prospect of including grasses in their planting.

Nowadays, in many gardens, they are considered if not compulsory then at least desirable.

Grasses bring qualities to a garden that no other plants can match. Though plantings may seem perfectly conceived with colour, form and texture, so often there is something lacking - an element of movement, or a touch of humour.

While sound in a garden is seldom considered, except perhaps for the inclusion of a water feature, the plants themselves also provide a soundscape - soft and swishing or wild and thrashing. And the plants that excel at making music are grasses.

Grasses are playful - they're light and airy and never take themselves too seriously. They are easy to grow and to use. It's amusing that using them has been the subject of many a serious treatise.

When they first became fashionable in the UK even TV pundits seemed wary of them.

Often they (the grasses, not the pundits) were herded into a grass garden, corralled, mostly in pots - presumably so they could be kept under control.

In contrast, on the continent - especially in Germany and Holland - they were lauded, often taking the leading role as they were incorporated into planting schemes.

Rosemary Weisse was one of the first to see and exploit the potential of grasses in naturalistic "prairie plantings" in parks and municipal spaces in Munich. She focused on those that needed no molly-coddling but which were in harmony with the site, its soil and its prevailing climate.

Many of her ideas seemed revolutionary, although her principles are rooted in sound common sense - right plant, right place.

Using grasses on a smaller plot presents a greater challenge. In a small domestic garden, grasses should be chosen carefully but used audaciously.

Adding one of everything, on the assumption this will provide variety and interest, does not work.

Even planting three of a kind will guarantee nothing other than a bitty picture. Grasses added randomly to provide contrast can look lost and incongruous.

At the other end of the scale, collections of larger grasses can end up like beds in a botanic garden.

The trick is to integrate grasses using their qualities to enhance other plants.

Many grasses have a dreamy insubstantiality which defies definition.

A meadow is a sea of lilting movement without focal points.

There may be no room for a wildflower meadow in your garden, but the effect can be achieved using a limited palette of cultivated plants with large quantities of one grass.

This could be planted as a swathe running through areas of taller plants, creating the kind of recess which opens up new views and emphasises the stature of other plants.

Or a meadowy margin could form an undulating edge to a border - even on straight paths, such a verge will add asymmetry and movement.

Wildflower meadows are at their peak for only a short space of time, but if you choose carefully you can maintain interest from spring through to autumn.

Deschampsia flexuosa, the wavy-hair grass, makes vivid, acid-green fountains in spring - combining beautifully with the lemon buttercup, Ranunculus acris citrinus and the stiff, near turquoise spikes of Veronica gentianoides.

Once its spires have disintegrated, stems of crocosmia would add rich colour, and could be followed by autumn crocus or a smattering of Amaryllis belladonna.

Some grasses are just meant to make pictures with other plants. The fluffy spikes of Pennisetum orientale juxtapose perfectly against the dark succulent leaves of Sedum "Purple Emperor" and the spiky bracts of Eryngium bourgatii.

Some varieties of Molinia caerulea are best in partnership. Each has its own personality and best uses. Molinia c. "Edith Dudszus", with its refined upright stems, is just the right candidate for a tight spot - perhaps using several plants a couple of feet apart, close to the convergence of two paths, where height is needed without overhanging growth.

Despite the sentinel effect, it lets you glimpse the treats in store as you walk. Such grasses give versatility to small spaces.

All molinia become golden in autumn - and look wonderful backlit.

CAPTION(S):

| Spiky... Eryngium bourgati 'Picos Blue' - Sea Holly

| Hot borders in the brick garden at Glebe Cottage with Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii AGM, Molinia caerulea 'Edith Dudszus', Cercidiphyllum, asters, cotinus, and dahlias PICTURES: Jonathan Buckley
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 9, 2016
Words:727
Previous Article:ask Carol.
Next Article:Overdue overhaul; diary.
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