November 10, 2013

Artful grass displays at London's Kew Gardens

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I'm not a grass person. But during our recent trip to London's Kew Gardens, I decided to move beyond my comfort zone, open my mind a little, and spend some time in Kew's Grass Garden.

I may just be a convert.

Was it because of the perfect weather (18C/64F, partly cloudy, calm)? The fact that I was on vacation? The season? Or something else?

Perhaps it was because of the incredibly artful way that Kew has arranged its grass collection: 550 species from around the world. And the time of day: midafternoon, which meant the sun was shining on, around, and through the grasses in spectacular ways. How could I resist?

I took 225 photos at Kew--63 of them at the Grass Garden, alone. It was lovely. Here are a few highlights:

shenandoah

Shenandoah Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum), native to most of North America.

purplemoor

Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea), native to Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. This particular cultivar is 'Poul Petersen.' It forms purple flower spikes in the spring and summer that resemble Lavender from a distance.

harestail

Hare's Tail (Lagurus ovatus), a Mediterranean grass.

medusahead

Medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae), native to Southern Europe and North Africa.

pampass

Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana), native to Southern South America.

seaoats

Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), native to much of the Eastern and Central U.S. and Northern Mexico. I've been meaning to add this grass to my garden because I find it attractive, and because it's one of the few grasses native to my area that thrives in partial shade.

squaw

Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum), native throughout most of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. This cultivar is 'Squaw,' which blooms with a cloud of pinkish flower heads.

fairy

Himalayan Fairy Grass (Miscanthus nepalensis), native to parts of Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

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Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis), native to much of the U.S., but common in the Midwest and West.

bloodgrass

Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica), native to parts of Asia, Micronesia, Melanesia, Australia, and parts of Africa. This cultivar is 'Rubra.'

featherreed

Korean Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha).

I could go on and on. But the true beauty of the grasses at Kew extends beyond their individual merits to the way the botanical garden has them combined in artful waves of color, texture, height, and form.

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(Just four days after our visit, London experienced a major windstorm. Fortunately, Kew reported it lost only 12 of its 14,000 trees, and the damage otherwise was minimal. I wonder how the Grass Garden fared.)

42 comments:

  1. Beautiful photos of various grass species.
    Have a nice monday! RW & SK

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    1. Thank you. So much to see at Kew! The Grass Garden is definitely a highlight.

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  2. For me, this is an example of being able to appreciate something without needing to own it; I think the grass gardens look really interesting and I would love to see them, but I don't want to make a garden like this myself. Your photos show them off very well.

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    1. Thanks, and I couldn't agree more, Lyn! Grasses en masse don't work very well in my garden, because of shade and various other reasons. But in the right place, they can be spectacular.

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  3. Gorgeous! I became a grass convert a few years ago, so I especially enjoyed seeing the variety at Kew Gardens. I am not a good plant designer at all but I've found that even when you use them incorrectly, as I probably do, the grasses look great.

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    1. When I saw that Kew had a grass garden, I just had to check it out. Even one or two years ago, I would have passed, but I'm glad I spent some time there. It opened my eyes to the true beauty of grasses.

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  4. I have just started growing some grasses in my garden, and I think they quickly become addicting. Before this year, I never wanted a grass garden, but now I have added it to my wish list. I have plenty of sun and space - I just need the money and manpower! Thanks for some beautiful inspiration pics.

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    1. Yes, money and manpower are other reasons...plus, I need more sun. ;-) So, for now, I just have to admit that grasses can be beautiful ... in other people's gardens. If you visit Kew, make sure you spend some time in the Grass Garden!

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  5. What an experience this must have been to visit Kew Gardens! The grasses are beautiful en masse like this, but I think I prefer them as a backdrop to flowering plants in smaller gardens. I have only a few grasses in my own garden; what I need is a designer to show me how to place them as artfully as this:)

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    1. Yes, it was fantastic! And we only covered a tiny fraction of the place in the few hours we were there. If I had more sun, I think I would experiment a bit with a small grass garden--maybe mixed with some other sun-loving plants. But, for now, I must enjoy my shady garden.

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  6. Goodness, what a stunning collection of photographs, like looking at one of my grasses books! How wonderful to be able to see this garden at optimum time of day and year, the lower warmer light really sets them off perfectly. Some magical combinations there, and one of the grasses on my "must have" list, the Molina caerulea 'Poul Petersen'. *happy sigh*

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    1. Oh yes, 'Poul Petersen' is nifty--especially when popped intermittently with some shorter green grasses. I imagine it looks rather stunning with the purple flower tops. Another one of my favorites that was stunning in person, and seems photogenic, was Korean Feather Reed Grass. But they were all nifty--especially arranged the way they were. Wow!

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  7. I love the way they have used the grasses there. Even Pampas grass, which I usually don't like, looks so good the way they have placed it in the garden.

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    1. Yeah, the combination was almost other-worldly. Pampas Grass seems like it's overused--even this far north in the Midwest, believe it or not. In its place, and in smaller groupings, it's OK. The nifty thing about the Grass Garden at Kew is unique combinations--and so tastefully done!

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  8. Beth what a fascinating garden. i love the tall clumps coming out of the sea of low grasses...and all the variety of grasses. i love them in my garden...this makes me want to add more.

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    1. You are fortunate to have space and sun for grasses, Donna! I'd like to see more photos of your grass arrangements!

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  9. I love your photos! I didn't used to be into grass, either, but now that I'm looking to plant natives, I have planted a number of grasses. Some are cultivars, though.

    Be careful if you plant Northern sea oats. It reseeds very prolifically.

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    1. Thanks for the tip on Northern Sea Oats. I'll have to plan the location carefully! I don't have enough sun for grasses or I'd probably have more.

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  10. Fabulous photos Beth. I have an image of a prairie - type garden with grasses blowing in the wind, but don't really know how to achieve it, or maintain it if I had it.

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    1. Thanks, Sue. I love prairies! But I prefer the type that have lots of forbs in them, too. The grasses are pretty spectacular, though, when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining.

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  11. I am not a grass person too, because they are not growing well in my garden but when I see all these pictures of grass varieties growing in Kew I love it. I have visited Kew a few times when I was in London and it is really a great place to spend a day.

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    1. Yes, indeed, a wonderful place to spend a day ... or two, or seven, or more!

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  12. I'm also someone who has to make an effort to really appreciate grasses. They tend to be an afterthought in my garden. The grasses garden at Kew looks really exciting, though. It's got a number of grasses that I grow, including Northern Sea Oats and 'Shenandoah' switchgrass. We never did get to Kew when we were in London, so I guess we have another reason to go back.

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    1. I guess I've never seen them in such an interesting display before. I would never be able to or want to come close to such a display in my own garden, but it's a great thing to see. We only saw a tiny fraction of Kew. I don't know if I'll ever get back to England, but if I do, I will visit Kew again!

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  13. The have to be some of the best grass pictures I've seen 10 out of 10 for effort!
    I've a few grasses but never enjoy them in my garden. I think they really need to be planted en masse, as they have done at Kew. I don't have the space to offer them I think.

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    1. Wow, thanks Angie! I don't have the space either, and I definitely don't have enough sun. I think if I did I would try a small grass garden with a few species planted together, along with some sun-loving perennials.

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  14. Great pictures of the grasses, I can't grow them well as I do not have an open and sunny site, however there is one grass that I love which I have grown in containers very successfully, although it does seed itself about. Anemanthele lessoniana (syn. Stipa arundinacea) 'Pheasant Tail Grass' back-lit by a winter sun is absolutely stunning. Readers of the RHS magazine will have seen sites where whole banks have been planted up with this wonderful plant, also where it has been used as a repetitive signature in a mixed herbaceous border.

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    1. Thanks, Rick. I googled A. lessoniana--it's a beautiful mounding grass. Now I'm imagining it with the sun glinting through it in winter--sounds lovely! I like the idea of growing grasses in containers--that's what I was thinking of doing with the Northern Sea Oats.

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  15. I have yet to visit Kew Gardens. On the list! You had a perfect time of year to view the grasses. Great photos. Thanks for taking us along.

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    1. Thanks, Layanee. A couple of things I learned: It's a little frustrating because the place is so huge. I was kind of sad, because I could only see a small part of it! And they have great food at the Orangery Restaurant. Lots of outdoor seating and the inside has lots of windows so you can view the gardens. Delightful place!

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  16. Your photos are absolutely lovely Beth, and you have captured the essence of Kew, a place where you find plants from all over the world, literarily! Kew Gardens is my favourite place in London, if they only would let me camp out in the bamboo garden (there is a small hut there), or even in one of the glass houses, then I could spend a whole year there and still not be bored, something new to see every day!
    I don’t have any grasses in my garden, I don’t have enough sun and not enough space, but with a bigger garden I could think of a few I would have liked to have, the Northern Sea Oats and Japanese Blood Grass for example.

    Last time Britain had a really bad storm, in 1987, Kew Gardens alone lost 700 trees, many very old and irreplaceable! Many have been replanted since then, and many of those still standing have been secured for future storms. Overall, 15 million trees were lost in the 1987 storm and lessons were learned on how to plant trees so they can withstand storms better.

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    1. Thanks, Helene! I know what you mean about wanting to camp out at Kew. What I didn't mention is all the lovely benches they have throughout--making it comfortable to sit and reflect while you view the lovely plants. It was a near-perfect day. Only one problem--my sore feet. But that kept me from trying to see too much, which would have been exhausting. I didn't realize the UK lost so many trees in 1987! That is so sad.

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  17. I really like how they used grasses at Kew. You took lovely images also. One thing about the grasses, they need their space, and fill up space readily. You must have had a wonderful trip, especially if you missed the wind storm.

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    1. Thank you, Donna. Yes, the trip and Kew were spectacular. I would like to get back to England someday and see more areas outside of London...oh, and of course we barely covered a corner of Kew! Great place to visit.

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  18. Lovely! I was at Kew Gardens summer before last but I don't remember seeing the grass garden. I am a huge fan of sea oats. It can become a bit invasive here if you're not careful but maybe with your serious winters it won't be for you.

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    1. Good to know about the Sea Oats--I'll have to pick the right spot for it. I almost avoided the Grass Garden, but I'm glad I didn't. It really opened my mind and perspective to the beauty of grasses.

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  19. Oh my that was balm for my troubled gardeners soul. I love grasses, and was smitten the moment I first saw them. Tried growing many varieties in containers on the coast, and of course the more beautiful they were, the harder they died. Gradually introducing some hardy ones around here, can't wait until I can split them.

    Jen

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    1. Oh, I'm glad Jen (not that you're troubled, but that you enjoyed the post). I suppose you're in a better location for many of the grasses now. I'm more open-minded about them now. They're especially beautiful in the fall, lit by morning or late afternoon light.

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  20. Lovely photos and I think they look fantastic. I fell in love with grasses and changed an area of the garden to 'grasses only'. It looked great for about 4 weeks in the year! The rest of the time it looked a bit rubbish ! I grew them all from seed so lots of effort was involved. Then, lots of effort was involved in replacing them...
    I don't know where I went wrong. They look good enough to eat on your photos ...

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    1. Thanks, Jane. Yes, I'm not sure I'd be much of a grass-only gardener, either. I've used grasses here and there, and as structural elements in pots and arrangements, but not much in my garden. Sounds like you learned a lot from your experiment, even if it didn't work out.

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    1. Yes, it does seem like grasses are best viewed and appreciated during the fall. I'm glad we were at Kew at their peak of interest!

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