When is a hedge not a hedge?

“Garden rooms” are in the “in” thing with garden designers. Big plot? Make it seem bigger by dividing it into garden rooms. Long thin plot? Disguise the length by dividing it into garden rooms. These garden rooms are all very well, but what about their “walls”?

You could put up a fence or trellis and put climbers on them, but climbers have a habit of running to the top of their support, leaving bare stems further down. You could plant a hedge, but hedges take lateral space and need pruning at least once a year. Either you plant small hedging plants that take several years to grow up and make a decent screen, or you plant mature specimens and spend half your life watering them whenever there is a dry spell. So what is an alternative?

A grass! That’s right, a grass. Not just any grass – calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’.

Calamagrostis x acutifolia 'Karl Foerster' - 2017

Beth Chatto describes it as “an outstanding vertical, especially in autumn and winter.” From a standing start in spring, this grass is already five feet high by mid June, and adds another twelve inches by the end of the season. It will grows in sun or part shade and tolerates most soils, but does best in a sunny position in light or free-draining ones, forming a clump and without seeding everywhere. Avoid very windy positions, but a light breezes add a shimmering effect to it when used as a background. The only maintenance it requires is to cut away all the old growth right down to ground level in early spring. To keep the upright profile, divide it every three to four years to reduce the amount of ground level foliage. This is best done just as it starts into growth by digging the clump up, cutting it into smaller sections with a sharp chop from a spade, and replanting the divisions.

It works equally well not only as a backdrop for a border, but also as a semi-transparent screen beside a path.

Fruit cage path (looking east) - 13th June

For small gardens, calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ could be the perfect hedge.


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