Grasses: More Wow and Less Work by Neil Lucas

The title of the talk given to the Club by Neil Lucas was “Grasses: More Wow and Less Work”.

Neil is a leading ornamental grass specialist and owner of Knoll Gardens Nursery and show gardens, in Dorset. He describes himself as a “hands on” gardener, “on the job for twenty years,” during which he has shown at Chelsea for ten years, winning ten consecutive gold medals, and is now a Chelsea judge. He travels he world, discovering new forms of grasses, but also finds time continually to develop his gardens, to give advice, to organize tours and a gardening charity, to write a book and, of course, give talks to many interested groups and organizations .

Neil’s talk was illustrated with many slides showing the stunningly beautiful effects to be achieved with grasses, of which there are many hundreds of varieties. “Wow”, indeed! Elegant in form (picture them swaying in the breeze), some change colour throughout the seasons, and are striking when back-lit by the sun, silvered by frost or snow, or viewed against a backdrop of other plants and trees, especially in Autumn. Easy to grow, and flourishing in many different, even difficult terrains and climates some may bear many flowers, providing year-round interest. Referring to one of their special qualities Neil uses the phrase “blur and merge”, to describe the way they soften edges of paths and borders. Additionally they dry well!

Naming them here has to be limited, but gardeners can look for forms of Miscanthus, Festuca, Carex, Molinia, Panicum, Pennisetum, Stipa and so many more.

The main advice is “right grass in the right place”. Grasses can cope with wind and will grow quickly after being cut back. There are two types of root systems: the clump forming stays in one place but the quest forming will spread. All do well in pots and containers. Evergreens should be cut down in April, May or June; deciduous subjects can be cut back at any time. Most grasses stay the same height; their stems add to the overall effect and as well as looking resplendent when massed they can look well amongst some herbaceous plants, such as Verbena Bonariensis.