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Grasses have everything to do with light and air. The stems, and indeed the seed heads of many of them, move and shift in the air. Think of a hay meadow or cornfield rippling in the breeze. When caught by the light they glint and shine, and if set against a dark background, the effect can be magical. A colony of the same grass has unity and texture, and the innate simplicity of their form is satisfying. They are also pretty steady state in plant terms. For many the coloured flower heads turn silver with age and remain beautiful for months. Taller grasses in particular can become an important garden feature, and some with a vertical growth habit are strongly architectural. Those with arching or bending stems form a textured cascade, like a wave folding, and contribute a strong sweeping shape. Most grasses require mininal maintenance with just an annual cutback in spring. Some will gently increase in girth whilst others may self-seed, often enhancing existing plantings (and at no extra cost). The following are a selection of medium to tall grasses which are very garden-worthy.
For glittering seed heads the magnificent Stipa gigantea takes some beating. The  seed heads spangle gold in sunlight and shift in the merest breeze. It’s a plant for a focal point, that reaches 2 metres when in flower. For a more subtle effect, Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’ stands at 2 metres with seed heads held on long slender stalks, often scarcely visible, shifting and moving, and often, as the name suggests, virtually transparent. Plant in front of other plants so you can peer through the moving stems.
For arching foliage that can appear to ripple in the breeze try Stipa arundinacea, now often sold as Anemanthele lessoniana which also changes colour through the seasons, from spring green to orange and brown. The soft green foliage of Panicum virgatum ‘Hanse Herms’ turning red and burgundy in autumn, has foliage that sweeps downward, stunning.
For a colony to provide unity and texture try Stipa tenuissima ‘Pony Tails’ good in both dreamy cottage gardens and crisp urban ones. This will self-seed and complements many other plants, especially mounded geraniums.
For dainty seedheads on a compact plant at 0.9 metres the arching hummocks of Pennisetum massaicum ‘Red Buttons’ with its small red flowers are a summer delight, while the showy silvered bottlebrushes of Pennisetum orientale ‘Tall Tails’ combine well with autumnal daisies.
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The strong vertical line is beautifully represented by Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (pid2550). Rigid and upright to 2 metres, it is best grown in a group or row, and is dramatic when viewed against the light in winter. For something smaller but equally starched shirt in its effect the 1.2 metres Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Moorhexe’ turns golden in the autumn.
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Available in huge variety the Chinese silver grass, Miscanthus sinensis and its forms, are popular with a good range of growth habits. A small form, at three-quarters of a metre, is gracefully arching. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Vorlaufer’, with pink-purple flower heads. Far taller, standing over 2 metres, is Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cosmopolitan’ with broad striped leaves and beige-plum plumes of flowers, handsome enough to be used as a specimen plant. Slender leafed forms include the smart-looking Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ at 1.5 metres and a form with a cascading growth habit, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’.
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Enjoy some of these tall feature plants in your garden.
Susan A. Tindall
Pictures, details and care instructions for all these grasses are available on our plant finder.  Just follow the link from the homepage.