The prevailing trend of massing grasses for optimal visual effect overshadows the powerful impact of grasses as solitary specimens that can bring light or movement to plantings. Above are three images that illustrate this impact and gardeners can apply it to small gardens.
Self-sown Shirley poppies pop forth from the backlit seedheads of Deschampsia cespitosa, a cool-season grass. Typically Deschampsia cespitosa is used for massing in gardens and the overall effect is admittedly stupendous (witness the large-scale plantings done by Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith in their work). Here Sally Johannsohn uses this grass to inject height and catch the late afternoon to early evening light, and the viewer pauses enough to admire the scene and notice the stone steps on the right.
Pennisetum villosum, a warm-season grass from northeast Africa, will take the baton from the fading Crambe cordifolia in the background. This planting cleverly integrates tender and hardy perennials, a tactic that the late Pam Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger honed to extend the seasonal interest during their time at Sissinghurst Castle Garden and later at Condicote. As long as the days are warm and long, Pennisetum villosum and Plectranthus argentatus will carry the scene well together with the Sedum whose flowers will turn pink or dark red.
In the Autumn Border at Pettifers, the arching form of Miscanthus sinensis 'Yakushima' breaks the rigid squat orange flowers of Kniphofia rooperi and visually mediates the two composites, white Chrysanthemum uliginosum and red-orange Helenium 'Sahin's Early Flowerer', and Euonymous planipes is aflame against the grass plumes. Gina Price never allows her garden to go out without a last hurrah, and the Autumn Border is Pettifers' pièce de résistance.