Where the grasses are always greener

PUBLISHED: 17:42 17 September 2008 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 February 2013

Naomi Slade.

Naomi Slade.

A visit to a Reading garden will inspire you during the coming winter months...

As summer slowly turns into autumn, many plants run out of steam and gardens rely increasingly on turning leaves, coloured stems and the ubiquitous evergreen. But there is another group of plants that holds its own at this time of year: ornamental grasses. After a summer spent bulking up herbaceous planting schemes and playing second fiddle to plants with gaudier blooms, they finally come into flower creating interest, excitement and structure when much else is losing heart.

On a tip-off from the National Gardens Scheme, I paid a visit to Janet Bonney's garden at Ivydene in Reading. The front garden, a profusion of arching stems, feathery flowers and compact mounds, acts as the opening chapter of a kind of 'Who's who' of grasses while the 120ft garden at the rear is completely packed with an international array of plants offset by Janet's own artwork.

A wisteria-clad pergola gives way to two ponds separated by a boardwalk (neatly solving the little problem of winter bogginess) before leading onto the lawn. A closer look at the borders displays a keen eye and adventurous nature as Janet juxtaposes bog, gravel, Mediterranean and modern styles with myriad interesting planting schemes.

Autumn is when Janet's grasses, all 50 varieties of them, can be viewed to best advantage. And they come, swishing and rustling, in all shapes and sizes from pincushions of Festuca glauca and pots of bronzy Carex to the towering firework-like plumes of Miscanthus sinenesis 'Goliath'; Panicum 'Warrior' with its purple candyfloss flowers and soft, feathery Stipa tenuissima.

A strong structure carries Janet's garden effortlessly onwards, oblivious of shortening days. Phormiums add their signature, vertical 'wow' factor while rosemary and lavender remain plump and fresh despite an absence of flowers. The fat, glossy hips of Rosa rugosa 'Frau Dagmar Hastrup' glow like jewels and throughout the garden there is a vivid leitmotiv of blue: cobalt blue, aquamarine, turquoise and violet, picked out in pots, ceramics and in Janet's trademark stained glass artwork.

This upbeat garden is not going to let a little thing like impending winter throw it off its stride. Designed, planted and ornamented with enthusiasm, rigour and great generosity of spirit, it offers a thousand ideas to take away.

For unusual grasses, Janet recommends Knoll Gardens in Dorset.

Ivydene is open by appointment for the National Gardens Scheme for groups 5+. www.ngs.org.uk or call 0118 9697591.

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