The grass border at Wisley
Words: Bernard Boardman (Horticulturist, Wisley)
The grass border at Wisley is a long sweeping border running up to the restaurant, so it has to look good all year round. It really peaks in late summer and autumn when the grasses are in flower, but we leave some of the flower heads on throughout winter, and some say they look even better than in summer!
The planting plan below is based on a 2m x 1m bed and uses some of our favourite grasses and herbaceous perennials from the grass border.
Planting plan - 2m x 1m
Key to plan
1. Achillea filipendulina 'Gold Plate' x 6
2. Agapanthus 'Buckingham Palace' x 2
3. Anemanthele lessoniana x 1
4. Crocosmia 'Lucifer' x 8
5. Deschampsia cespitosa 'Goldtau' x 1
6. Hemerocallis 'Berlin Red'
7. Hemerocallis 'Green Flutter' x 1
8. Kniphofia 'Percy's Pride' x 1
9. Kniphofia 'Tawny King' x 1
10. Libertia 'Taupo Blaze' x 1
11. Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' x 3
12. Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal' x 1
13. Rudbeckia maxima x 1
Our soil at Wisley is a sandy loam that we have improved by adding well-rotted organic matter. The result is a well-drained, but moisture retentive bed where grasses and herbaceous plants thrive without the need to water. Remember that grasses do not require high nitrogen levels so make sure that any organic matter you add is well-rotted.
To add colour and enhance seasonal interest we have introduced herbaceous perennials into this border. Achillea and Hemerocallis flower for long periods, while the Kniphofia spikes provide focal points among the softer grasses. Agapanthus always look good but may need some winter protection in very cold regions. You can add gravel to improve drainage if you think they are going to sit in a wet patch for too long.
Although not used in our 2m x 1m design, consider adding bulbs for early interest in spring. Snowdrops always show up well when planted with Ophiopogon, and Crocus too can give a display before all the larger plants start growing as the soil warms.
Good soil preparation is always the key to success. Clear the ground of all perennial weeds before you plant and mulch after planting. Some grasses may prove to be more vigorous than others. Lift and divide these in autumn or early spring. Cut back old flowers and foliage in autumn or leave until spring to provide winter interest and shelter for insects over winter.