I took myself off to Wisley one afternoon to spend some time with the grasses planted in front of the Lindley Library. This is a wonderful spot in which to appreciate the range and also the spectacle of a masssed planting of ornamental grasses; you can retreat over the lawns of Seven Acres and look back towards the borders, one moment scanning across the aggregated planting and enjoying the whole as a single, dynamic composition, and the next focussing in on the varied forms and textures of individual specimens.
But – true to form – what I particularly wanted to do was to stick my nose right into the plants and get to know some of them, if not intimately, then at least on slightly more familiar terms. And since grasses tend to flower towards the end of the season, finally flinging their flowering stems skywards having spent the first months of the year in various manifestations of hummock, mound or amorphous clump, this was a perfect time of year in which to indulge my wish.
There’s a particular property of certain grasses that I find fascinating, an almost metallic sheen to the flowers which catches the light in such as way that a drift of them planted to catch the low autumn sun will appear to be a diaphonous cloud of spun wire, on which are threaded small beads of the same metal. It’s not particularly easy to capture as a still image, as the gently movement of the stems refracts the light continually and causes the whole to sparkle, adding greatly to the impression. Quite a breathtaking effect, and one I noticed first with Deschampsia cespitosa 'Goldtau'.
|Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal'|
|Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' in the foreground|
|Miscanthus 'Little Zebra'|
|Miscanthus 'Little Zebra'. A great grass for a smaller space|
|Miscanthus 'Gnome'. Marginally more attractive than its name would suggest|
The first of these, with its long, tapering flowers in shades of light pink, initially gave rise to some confusion as the only label in close proximity proclaimed Molinia caeruliea subsp arundinacea 'Zuneigung', and I was fairly sure it wasn’t that. Subsequent confirmation from persons more knowledgeable than myself verified that that this was, as I’d assumed, Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails' (sometimes available as 'Fairy Tales', rather losing the point of the pun in the cultivar name), which fades to tan and beige later in the season, reaching a height of 1.2m.
|Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'|