Grasses for Winter Days – Nature’s Encore

Autumn is always a time of the year when the cycle of a garden is truly palpable - perennials fade for another year and we begin to 'put the garden to bed' tidying up and focusing on planting bulbs, looking forward to the promise of early spring colour after the dark days of winter. As autumn gives way to winter and we are left with the ‘bones’ of the garden, highlights can still be found as the winter light shines through the remaining ornamental grasses and seed heads.  A great example of this was during a recent visit to Knoll Gardens where Lucy was fortunate enough to enjoy a garden tour with the nursery owner, Neil Lucas. Over the last 27 years, Neil, together with his team, has created a wonderful naturalistic garden of ornamental grasses combined exquisitely with perennials, mature trees and shrubs.  Walking around such a specialist garden with the man who has created this was incredibly informative, studying areas which one might have passed through if making a solo trip around the garden, but this time Neil ensured that the group stopped to study the grasses he had used in dry shade, damp shade, full sun and any areas we just might find tricky as gardeners.  The group were also entranced by a relatively newly area of the garden that had formed a mix of flowing ornamental grasses,  studded by tall, architectural perennials including the graceful Echinacea pallida  – no doubt these Echinacea would have looked so stunning in flower, but they looked equally beautiful in their bare winter form of seedheads seeming to float above the grasses. (See image above) A sight sure to delight right through those cold days of winter to come.

As we finish off our most recent planting projects, it has been fascinating to draw from the expertise of Neil and his team, ordering many ornamental grasses from Knoll to be planted out at our projects and integrate ornamental grasses throughout the planting at three very different gardens, all with different conditions and challenges. However, despite their vast differences and the range of grasses we have selected to compliment and bind together our plantings, one element that will remain the same will be encouraging our clients to leave the grasses (any many perennials) untouched for the winter months. Just as evergreens can give much needed winter structure, so too can the seedheads and forms of ornamental grasses and perennials.  And if any further persuasion was needed to hold off cutting everything back, we only need to look at how beneficial seedheads can be for birds and other wildlife during the months of the year when times can be tough. Birds will eke out the seeds and the strong stems can provide much needed habitat for a myriad of insects and larvae.  The RSPB is so right when they tell us gardeners to  ‘allow nature to have its encore’. We think this painting by the renowned Dorset artist, Nicholas Hely- Hutchinson is truly inspiring as an illustration of just how beautiful nature can be as autumn fades to winter.  

Hely-Hutchinson,N.  Finches