Ornamental grasses bring to mind prairie-style gardens. But there are a number of other ways to use ornamental grasses in the landscape. There are evergreen grasses, and there are deciduous grasses. Some varieties are 6 inches tall while others have 4-foot-long blades. The texture and shape of ornamental grasses blend in well within naturalistic garden designs.
True prairie-style gardens have several characteristics. They are placed in locations that are sunny, hot and dry. In prairie regions wind is often a factor since there is a lack of trees in the open prairie. Grasses look good when the feathery flower stalks blow in the wind, and the color of the blades turn golden bronze in the sun. Most grasses are drought tolerant, so they are useful in native environmental designs. When winter arrives these grass gardens go to sleep, and there is little interest. Pair grasses like miscanthus and fescue with a scattering of evergreen plant material. Natural rock and garden art will also help to fill this gap. Evergreen perennials like phormium and yucca will add structure to the grass garden. Plant grasses in swathes using no more than three or four types of grasses. Alternate different sizes for a more realistic appearance. Plant ornamental grasses to fight erosion on a slope or hillside.
Grasses as Complementary Plants
Evergreen grasses can complement any type of garden. Using them sparingly as accent plants can be effective. The blades of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus "nigrescens") make a strong statement in Japanese-inspired gardens. The green-and-white striped blades of variegated sedge (Carex morrowii "Ice Dance") are effective in lighting up a dark corner of the garden. Both of these grasses are clumping forms that look good year-round. Plant clumping accent grasses next to perennials like daylilies and agapanthus to mimic the same form. Running grasses like blood grass (Imperata cylindrica rubra) can be placed along the a border of the garden or planted in a swathe for vivid red fall color. Blood grass will develop the best color in full sun. Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa) is a running grass that comes in a chartreuse variety and variegated form. Japanese forest grass does best in partial sun.
Grasses as Accent Plants
Taller grasses look good in containers. The bronze fronds of leatherleaf sedge (Carex buchananii) or zebra grass (Miscanthus zebrinus) look great coming out of a tall, narrow pottery container. This application can add interest to any entrance or walkway. Grasses look good next to water features; wild grasses are common near ponds, lakes, streams and shorelines. The grass does not need to be a wetland grass to create the same effect. Plant clumps of grasses throughout the staggered rocks of a simulated stream bed. This will create the most naturalistic appearance.