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A couple of week’s ago we were glued to the telly, eyes agog, watching the nation’s favourite gardener wading about knee deep in a mass of grassy leaf litter.

Monty Don grass border

Bless you Monty, for reminding me of “jobs you can be getting on with this weekend”.

Grasses are very low maintenance plants yet what needs doing, needs doing in good time. Monty was right to remind me to pick up the pace. Faced with three mass plantings containing hundreds of grasses one solution is to bring in a couple of helpers armed with power tools and to stock up on chocolate biscuits. Each year we get a few steps closer to getting the job done as quickly, neatly, and efficiently as possible.

The meadow : Deschampsia cespitosa and Molinia caerulea subsp.arundinacea

Meadow March

Meadow : deschampsia mid-March

The little meadow has just had its first birthday. As expected Deschampsia cespitosa* is looking a little more urchin-like than it did last year. There’s no sign of the molinia, as the only truly deciduous native grass we grow in UK gardens it collapses in a heap in the run-up to Christmas, then likes a long lie-in until soil temperatures rise. Knowing this, there were two plans. Plan A was to treat it to a severe haircut once we’d cleared the spent molinia. Plan B was to leave the remains of the deschampsia to see how it stood over the winter months. Curiousity got the better of me, through the later part of the winter I watched how the remains of the light and airy deschampsia fared as weekly storms swept through the garden.

Ollie strimming meadow

Strimming the meadow mid-February

In mid-February they looked like a pile of Pick-Up Sticks, so as soon as we had a break in the weather, out came the strimmer. Deschampsia is a native semi-evergreen grass, it was already in active growth. A 5″ cut was as low as seemed sensible. The stubborn thatch held at the base of the plant ducked below the strimmer blades.

Deschampsia rough grass February 2016

Frosted deschampsia planted in rough grass February 2016

In comparison, a test patch of deschampsia planted in turf under the walnut trees looked emerald green in February. These were strimmed to ground level back in late November along with the rough grass. As a result they have recovered well and are now showing as much neater, tufty mounds.

Pot in the remains of the remain mid Fenduary

The meadow just before it was cut in February : Molinia is the straw coloured one, front right

All things considered, I think it best to stick to Plan A : to strim them sooner rather than later. Weeding may be easier too, goodness knows what’s lurking beneath the thatchy mats. Although a combination of tall forms of molinia underplanted with airy deschampsia works brilliantly throughout the spring, summer and autumn, being blitzed by the winter Breacon Blasts proves too much for airy stems.

For total staying power through to early spring I depend on fail-safe cultivars of Calamagrostis and Miscanthus sinensis, they look so good in their late winter finery that I sigh when the time comes to cut them down.

The terrace : Calamagrostis xacutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and ‘Overdam’

Cutting back Calamagrostis February 2016

Cutting Calamagrostis in mid-Febrary it showed green growth

Three weeks ago it was the terrace’s turn. After a bit of deliberation, two extra pairs of hands armed with snippers helped me cut back the banks of calamagrostis. Even though the job was done by hand it only took until coffee time. The hedge cutter’s heavy duty blades chewed up the fine dried flowering stalks and spat them everywhere. Investing in a set of handy, lightweight rechargeable electric clippers would be a good idea, they’d work better on the fine, brittle stems. I’m told a saw-edged grass hook does a good job too.

Calamagrostis regrowth mid March

Lily checking the re growth mid-March

Now that the grassy screen is gone Lily is missing her games of hide-and-seek with the voles.

Phlomis seed head and bleached grass

I’m missing the combination of Phlomis fruiticosa seed heads against the feather reed grass.

The miscanthus hedges : Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ and ‘Starlight’

Luckily for me, Miscanthus is a warm season sleepyhead, slumbering until light levels and soil temperatures rise. All the better for me, I can leave cutting it back for even longer.


Background tall hedge of Miscanthus ‘Malepartus’, foreground dwarf hedge M.’Starlight’

When the day came to cut the miscanthus down I was out bright and early to tie up two hundred-odd stands of tall stems of Miscanthus ‘Malepartus’ into tepees. On such a beautiful morning I knew I was in for a final treat. The hazy sunlight filtering through the trees set the fluffy plumes alight like a row of flaming torches.

Heavy duty hedge cutters are the perfect solution for cutting tall stands of stout-caned grasses. In a couple of hours the miscanthus hedge was cleared and cut into mulch sized lengths (the sheaves were laid across the log saw horse). The results were a neat buzz cut, very little debris to clear from the crowns, plus two builder’s bags full of straw.

There’s a 19 second video (January 2015) which shows how the McBrides at Sussex Prairies clear their vast mass plantings which were designed to be razed by fire. (I hope the link will play.)This method is explained by Pauline in her post ‘A Burning Question’. The motto of their garden which is set in several acres of former farmland is “Daring to Disturb the Universe”. The big question for me is, dare I disturb the neighbours? 😉

*Deschampsia cespitosa is a prolific self-seeder, it’s a beautiful, short-lived grass. In time I  may replace it with divisions of Seslaria autumnalis that I’m growing-on in nursery beds. At this time of year the two semi-evergreen grasses look very similar and can be strimmed in the same way. In the first meadow image there is one Seslaria on the left hand corner.