Author: George Gilchrist

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Monday, November 1st, 2010 at 2:03 pm
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Pick A Plant

Miscanthus sinensis – An ornamental grass for modern times

17 species of Miscanthus exist but it is the Miscanthus sinensis cultivars that provide successful garden plants that have grown in popularity in recent years.

The Greek translation of Miscanthus provides us with a clue to its ornamental merits, Mischos meaning stalk and anthos meaning flower. Cultivars can provide us with attractive foliage often followed by flowers from late summer to autumn. They are clump forming and can be grown in small or large groups on their own or be used to compliment other plants in a herbaceous or mixed border. They can be particularly effective if backlit by either artificial light or evening sunlight. If space is a premium, then a single specimen in a pot can be a classy edition to any garden or patio setting. Although they can be slow to develop early in the season they will provide interest in the garden from mid-summer onwards.

Miscanthus sinensis originates from Eastern Asia. This may help to explain why garden designers in countries with much warmer summers have been quicker to utilise the charms of these useful garden plants. It is worth considering this fact in mind when you are selecting your cultivars. I was lucky enough to work with Rick Darke, one of the leading lights in the modern development of ornamental grasses. His subsequent books have certainly provided inspiration. However it is important to remember that the American or continental European summers are significantly warmer than our own. Bearing this fact in mind, cultivar selection is crucial. Later flowering cultivars are less likely to produce flowers especially the further west and higher up you go in the Lothians. For these locations, cultivars providing attractive foliage may be a more reliable option. Plants may also be shorter and two to three years patience may be required until the plants fully establish.

They are easily grown, probably best in full sun, however, the cultivars grown for foliage effect can be effective in some shade. They grow on a wide range of soils types but adding organic matter when planting will help to ensure success. They generally require little maintenance except cutting back the previous year’s growth in late winter to ground level to allow the new growth to develop.

The RHS Plant Finder lists over 90 cultivars so you have plenty to choose from but here are a list of some of my personal favourites that have performed well in a range of different situation in the Lothians:

Miscanthus ‘Purpureus’ – Its main attribute is its red orange foliage in the autumn and one of the easiest to grow.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ – Commonly known as one of the Zebra grasses with its unusual golden stripes across its green foliage.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Cosmipolitan’ – very attractive white and green variegated margins to the leaves

Miscanthus sinensis  ‘Gracillimus’ – 4-5ft mainly grown for it’s narrow leaves

Miscanthus sinensis ‘China’ – Compact narrow leaves with red flowers

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’ – Large pink tinted flowers from late summer onwards

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