Updated: Mar 9
✦ Daniel “Chook” Fowler from Greenbourne Nursery talks Australian Native Grasses and using them to add contrast with their unique colours and structures.
A few years ago, I was growing hundreds of thousands of grass tubes for the highway upgrades between Port Macquarie and Ballina. It now seems like a lifetime ago. Loads of species like Lomandra, Dianella and Themeda, just to name a few.
The species list was basically to replace endemic varieties that had been removed in the road making process. The majority of the plants requested by the RMS were standard re-vegetation varieties that can be considered a little boring to the home ornamental garden.
However, they all were very hardy and drought tolerant. These plants were planted into barren areas, watered a couple of times, then left to fend for themselves. The survival rate was always high, even in the toughest of situations. So, it makes sense that they should be used in a more domestic capacity. Along come organisations like Ozbreed. They noticed this and began developing a range of grasses that not only are tough survivors, they are also select forms that are quite spectacular in their appearance and seasonal displays. From the common native wild species, they have bred and selected varieties that are now sold all over the world.
Australia’s ornamental native grasses look great in the garden. They can add contrast with both their unique colours and structural appearance. There are ornamental grasses for all conditions. Some for the dry areas, some for the wet, the hot, the cold and the poor soils and the rich soils. There is certainly a native grass out there for you to try in your garden.
Here are some examples of some of the great options available…
Nafray is a beautiful mid-sized grass with green foliage and masses of foxtail-like flowers held just above the foliage from late summer to autumn. Nafray is a great grass for damp areas in the garden and, for this reason, they are often called Swamp Foxtail Grass. A mid-sized native grass with foxtail flowers in autumn.
Pennisetum ‘CREAM LEA’
Cream Lea is a select variety of the Australian native grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides. Cream Lea is a tall grass with green foliage to 1.2 metres, and flowers that are creamy-white in colour are held above the foliage to 1.4 metres. Cream Lea holds its foliage colour overwinter better than all other Pennisetum varieties. Pennisetum is often called Swamp Foxtail Grass because they like to have a moist soil to perform at their best. Saying this, Cream Lea will still grow very well in a mulched garden bed, and it is also reasonably drought tolerant. The Cream Lea variety of Pennisetum flowers in autumn with cream coloured foxtail like flower heads.
Dianella ‘LITTLE JESS’
Little Jess is a small compact form of Dianella with bright green foliage. The compact nature of Little Jess makes it an ideal border plant along pathways and garden borders. When planted close together, it can form a low informal hedge. It has beautiful bluish-purple flowers in spring. Little Jess is one of the best cultivars of Dianella on the market today. It works well mass planted in clumps of 5 to 7 plants. Unlike other Dianella caerulea cultivars with a spreading habit, Little Jess is a clumping form with tightly held foliage that gives it a neat appearance. It is great for small gardens because of its compact size.
Mingo is a prostrate, blue form of Kangaroo Grass (Themeda australis) that makes an excellent groundcover plant. The beautiful blue foliage contrasts nicely with the rusty, reddish-brown flower heads. Mingo is an ideal ground for native gardens and can make an informal native lawn. Themeda australis ‘Mingo’ is a tough, hardy grass that will add a touch of colour to the garden with its blue foliage, which changes colour in autumn to get purple and reddish tones. Mingo has sterile seeds, so it will never become weed-like other grasses can. Mingo can be planted and trained as an informal native lawn; the key to success is to plant 20 plants per m2 and mow on a high mower setting so you don’t scalp the grass.
Kingsdale is a native tussock grass that will add a touch of colour to your garden with its bluish-grey arching foliage. Grasses like Kingsdale are perfect for softening hard surfaces and adding an element of movement with the slightest breeze. Kingsdale is suited to seaside coastal gardens and will also be at home in inland country gardens. Poa 'Kingsdale' resembles the exotic grass Blue Fescue, (Festuca glauca), a popular ornamental grass prized for its blue foliage. Kingsdale is a cool-season grass that actively grows over the cooler months of the year. In summer, it flowers with the seed head held above the foliage.
Poa 'Eskdale' is an ideal choice for gardeners seeking a grassy effect for their garden. The fine bluish-green foliage with an upright to arching form is ideal for softening hard surfaces such as paving and fences. When used on mass, it creates a wild, windswept look in the garden. Poa 'Eskdale' is a cool-season grass that holds its colour well over winter in even the coldest climates. It flowers in summer with feathery seed heads held above the foliage. In hot northern climates, the folia