Some things just belong together. Take your average hotdog for instance; without a compliment of spicy mustard, fresh chopped onions and a cold beer, it’s really just dubious meat that has been ground and stuffed into a tube – handy to eat, but hardly haute cuisine. In the gardening world, ornamental grasses have much the same reputation…particularly to men, who have spent far too much time mowing lawns to allow any more ‘grass’ to be planted in the garden. They just assume that ornamental grasses are as much work as the lawn species (which they aren’t) and completely overlook the aesthetic beauty.
So I’ve decided to suggest a few perennial companions in order to improve their visual appeal and try to overcome this gender bias. Which means that you ladies may actually get to buy two plants instead of the usual tussle over the one grass – just make sure the men in your lives read this article (I suggest leaving it by the remote control for the television).
Geranium ‘Rozanne’ – This 2008 Perennial Plant of the Year was discovered in Somerset England in 1989. It features large (up to 6cm) blooms of violet-blue with a white eye from May to September, which means that it is still in flower when many of the warm-season grasses are in their prime. It looks particularly striking when combined with gold-leaved grasses such Hakonechloa ‘Aureola’ (as shown) and the foliage takes on bronze-red tones in autumn. ‘Rozanne’ is deer resistant and grows 40-50cm high by 60 cm wide. Hardy to zone 4.
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ – With a name that translates as ‘gold storm’, you know you can expect a flurry of thin-petaled golden yellow daisies contrasted by dark brown cones. These are borne in late summer (July – October) and work well in combination with ornamental grasses such as Pennisetum ‘Hameln’, or for a little more contrast try Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata ‘Red Baron’). This Black-Eyed Susan is much more reliably perennial than Gloriosa Daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) and was the 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year. Attracts butterflies. Grows 60-75cm high and is hardy to zone 4.
Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire’ – This compact Russian sage is less prone to falling over and features airy violet-blue flowers over much of its stems from midsummer through to frost. The pungent silvery foliage contrasts well with other plants and this species is also quite drought tolerant once established. Pair with dwarf gold-banded Miscanthus sinensis, such as ‘Gold Bar’ or ‘Little Zebra’. Grows 45-60 cm high and wide. Hardy to zone 5.
Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’ – An RHS Award of Garden Merit winner covered in 2.5cm wide bright yellow daisies (from June to September) which attract butterflies. Absolutely eye-catching when combined with Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ or Blue Oatgrass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). It develops into clumps of airy green foliage that never seems to overwhelm adjacent perennials and is less prone to flopping than ‘Moonbeam’. Grows 38-45cm high by 45cm wide. Hardy to zone 4.
Sedum x ‘Mr. Goodbud’ – This tall stonecrop is a hybrid of Sedum spectabile ‘Brilliant’ and features large broccoli-like clusters of bright purplish-pink flowers in late summer. It was a 2006 RHS Award of Garden Merit winner and has shorter, stronger stems that don’t require staking. Dormant seed heads can be left for the birds to forage on in winter. Combine with Carex ‘Sparkler’. Grows 40cm high by 45-50cm wide. Hardy to zone 3.
Helenium x ‘Double Trouble’ – This Dutch introduction of Sneezeweed (used to be used for snuff) bears sterile blooms of bright yellow with layered petals surrounding a green to golden cone. These have strong stems and make good cut flowers but may require staking in fertile soils (you could also pinch plants when they are 15-20cm high). A true work of art when paired with Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’). Grows 75cm high by 45-60cm wide. Hardy to zone 4.
• You can find more ornamental grasses and perennial companions on my blog mikesgardentop5plants.wordpress.com.