Subscribe to our Growing Gardeners YouTube Channel

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Why I'm Wild About Indigenous Grasses

I read a comment the other day that stated quite matter of factly that using wild grasses in your garden is no longer fashionable...what? When did wild grasses ever reach any kind of recognition that puts them in the fashionable bracket? I haven't checked recently, but I don't think they want to be fashionable anyway. If anything, I don't think we've even begun to explore the beauty and the practicalities of using bunch type grasses.

Here's a few reasons why I think you should find a corner of your garden to plant some indigenous grasses:
  1. Grasslands need to be protected...Most people are surprised to know that grasslands are the most threatened biome in South Africa, but even more surprising is the fact that the biodiversity of our grasslands is second only to the species richness of our world famous fynbos.

  2. Birds and butterflies and other creatures love grasses...Now I'm not suggesting that by planting wild grasses in your garden, it comes anywhere near to making up for the destruction to this sensitive vegetation type. But by planting grasses, you will definitely attract birds and insects that would normally skip over your garden in search of more hospitable habitats.

  3. Wild Grasses look amazing...From an aesthetic point of view, there is not much that beats the sound and look of tall grasses being blown in the wind, or the early morning dew that sparkles on cobwebs and leaf blades.

  4. Veld Grasses are easy to maintain...There is also not much to maintaining a good sized area of wild grasses. If you consider that once established, you need only cut it back once a year to let the new green growth take over from the old bronzed foliage.

  5. Bunch Grasses are a great way of retaining soil...The roots of most grasses go down fairly deep, and therefore help anchor the soil. So that even in times of heavy rainfall, you can relax knowing that your precious topsoil is not going to be washed out to sea.

  6. Native Grasses conserve need very little water to keep indigenous grass looking good - in fact, you shouldn't really have to water them at all once they are established.

Wherever you are, and whatever you call Veld Grass (Steppes in Russia, Pusztas in Hungary, Pampas in South America, or Prairies in North America), there are a wide selection of plants to choose from that will add an incredible amount of beauty to your garden. I will provide a selection of great indigenous grasses that you can use in your garden in a post soon.

If you still need convincing look at the some of the masters of using wild grass in the garden - Dan Pearson and Oehme & Van Sweden.

Now that I think about it, don't just find a corner to plant some grasses, why not plant your entire garden just using grasses.


Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of grasses as well, although I confess I'm more drawn to flashy ornamentals over bunch grasses.

I'm amused by the comment that wild grasses are no longerfashionable - when exactly were they in fashion with anyone not wrapped by in garden design? In America at least many are just beginning to show the love, and lots of people are bewildered by the idea anyone would choose a grass over a flowering shrub!

Unknown said...

i like grass too. it's therapeutic to mow it when you're stressed out. i could just mow and mow and mow and mow all day long. even if it's blisteringly hot outside i mow. then i find i can deal with stuff easier. very therapeutic, you know.

i like Susan's comments too. i might form a mowing union if anyone's keen?

stoneware70 said...

Susan - Purple Fountain Grass aspires to be flashy? Hopefully, more people will catch on to how beautiful ornamental grasses are...

Sean - Mowing can be over-rated. I think its even more therapeutic to sit in the shade, with an ice cold drink and watch the grass grow. Hmmm...a mowing union - now that's just too flashy?

Town Mouse said...

Native grasses are so beautiful, and humans seem to respond well to that sight. Unfortunately, some grasses are highly invasive in the wrong environment. California has tremendous problem with Pampas grass, Arizona with Mexican Feather grass. So I really like your emphasis on NATIVE grasses, and hope everyone who plants one checks that it's either native or at least not invasive where they live.

Anonymous said...

Evergreen shrubs aren't particularly fashionable, but they manage to find their way into just about every garden. I think grasses are the same way. You can't really get attention with the idea of a landscape of only grasses, but, at the same time, it's getting to the point where a garden without any ornamental grasses looks like it's missing something.
We mostly plant grasses and sedges from California and New Zealand; I don't really know the South African ones.

Diana Studer said...

HAD fountain grass, because it looks lovely. Started to take over. I replaced it with red fountain grass. That got as tall as I am, so cut it back and put it in pots. Now it's sulking!

Pam Kersting said...

Hello to my SA friend! I too, am a huge fan of grasses. Here, in America we can grow so many species including pennisetums, miscanthes, panicums, stipa, muhlenbergias, andropogon and even weeping love grass. I'd love to know what you're specifying in S.A.

stoneware70 said...

Hey Pam, thanks for visiting...

I'm happy to say that we use some of those same grasses - Pennisetum rubra is used, but not the common setaceum (its a bit invasive). I don't know muhlenbergia though? Some other beautiful grasses available here are Aristida, Cymbopogon, Themeda, and my 2 favourites - Melinis (lovely pink inflorescence) and Setaria (lush strap-like leaves). Any of those sound familiar?

Unknown said...

I really like the combination of practical and esthetic on your blog. My website is - you might find it interesting. My email is

Jo-Lize said...

Hi Ross. I live in the Western Cape along the west coast and would like to plant some ornamental grasses that are low maintenance and have low water needs. I would prefer something indigenous. What would you suggest?

stoneware70 said...

Hi Jo-Lize, the Western Cape has many beautiful, indigenous varieties of grasses, sedges and reeds. My best advice is to look at what is growing well around you, and use those species that you like.

But generally speaking, Aristida is an attractive low water grass that grows fairly well throughout Southern Africa. Some species of Stipagrostis also do well on the west coast.

Another approach is to contact a local nursery, and get more specific advice for your area.

Hope that helps?

Home Made Pest Control Solution(s)

I'm really not a big fan of pesticides or chemicals. Actually, that's putting it mildly...I hate pesticides. They are almost always ...