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 Creating My Ornamental Grass Bed: A Journey from Doubt to Triumph

From the beginning, I envisioned creating an ornamental grass bed, but many advised against it, arguing that it wouldn't thrive in such an exposed location and would look messy. However, never one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to go for it anyway.

Ornamental grasses are like Marmite—you either love them or hate them. Their free and somewhat chaotic appearance can seem untidy and too wild for some tastes. Personally, I've always loved the movement they bring to a garden and how they provide the perfect backdrop for colourful perennials. Initially, I shelved my plans due to the naysayers, but I never completely gave up. In late 2022, I started drafting a garden bed plan and had my husband help me outline it with pegs and string to get a feel for its size and shape. In hindsight (what a wonderful thing that is !!), I could have been bolder and made the bed larger.

I then researched plants that could survive in our coastal location. Ornamental grasses generally do well on the coast, so I had plenty of options. Not always a good thing as too much choice can be overwhelming, but I eventually settled on a planting plan, considering height, spread, and colour. I created various diagrams resembling paint-by-number pictures, numbered each plant type, and marked them on the diagram. I knew I might deviate from the plan when planting, as things often look different in reality than on paper, but having a guide was still useful.

I sourced most of the grasses from a fantastic nursery called Meadowgate in West Sussex, which specialises in ornamental grasses. David from Meadowgate was extremely helpful, offering advice on which grasses to consider and arranging careful transit to the Isle of Bute. For a selection of perennial plants to add color and interest, I turned to a nursery in Edinburgh called Macplants. Gavin had a wonderful selection and was one of the few nurseries that would deliver to Bute. I'll list the plants below.🌼

When the grasses arrived in early March, most were dormant and had been cut back for winter, so I had pots of tiny stalks. The perennials were also dormant, making layout tricky even with my plan, as they all looked so small. Despite buying a lot of plants, they seemed lost in the large empty bed, making me question if I had bought enough. Time would prove that I had enough, in fact more than enough!

So into the ground the sorry specimens went, along with some more established plants like Phormium, Acorus Ogon, and Nassella Tenuissima, which helped the bed look less bare. I doubted some of the flowers would survive. We erected a large wire cage around the bed to protect the delicate plants from rabbits. By June, the bed looked wonderful. The grasses and most perennials had taken well, with only a few casualties. The Sanguisorba (Red Thunder), Erysimum (Apricot Twist and Bowles Mauve), and white Gaura (Whirling Butterflies) added gorgeous pops of colour. The tall, bold spikes of Kniphofia (Alcazar and Sunningdale Yellow) looked striking among the grasses. The combination of grasses and their constant swaying movement was a delight to watch. Geranium, Nepeta, and Stachys squeezed in around the bed created a wonderful bee magnet, making the garden positively buzz with life.🐝

I may thin some grasses out this year, depending on how they've fared through their first winter at Seaview. Some varieties, like Nassella Tenuissima, can self-seed too freely, so I'll need to monitor that. Although I'm aiming for a naturalistic look, I still want to maintain the design's structure and visual appeal. Another high-maintenance grass is Elymus Magellanicus, which is rhizomatous and tends to spread aggressively. I'll keep an eye on its behaviour before deciding its fate, though it does look stunning with the purple Astilbe contrasting against its metallic blue foliage. A few perennials may need replacing, and I can fill gaps with new Erysimum.

Despite the initial negativity and head-shaking about creating the bed, it has turned out to be a TRIUMPH. Sometimes, it pays to go your own way.

Acorus ‘Ogon’

Andropogon ‘Prairie Blues’

Elymus Magellanicus

Festuca glauca ‘Intense Blue’

Hordeum Jubatum

Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’

Miscanthus ‘Kleine Fontaine’

Miscanthus ‘Krater’

Miscanthus ‘Jaku Jima’

Nasella Tenussima

Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’

Pennisetum Red Buttons

Pennisetum Moudry

Astilbe ‘Purpurlanze’

Euphorbia Wulfenii

Geranium ‘Rozanne'

Geranium ‘Album"

Geranium ‘Samobor’

Kniphopia ‘Suningdale Yellow'

Kniphopia ‘Alcazar"

Perovskia 'Little Spire'

Phlomis Russeliana

Phormium ‘Sundowner’

Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’

Sanguisorba Menziesii Pink

Sanguisorba Red Thunder

Statchys ‘Silver Carpet’

Erysimum Apricot Twist

Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’

Erysimum Bowles Mauve

Nepeta Six Hills Giant