When most “non-gardeners” think of grasses, they picture a lawn: a clipped expanse of green that surrounds homes and graces golf courses. But for those of us in the know, there’s a whole other world of grass: ornamental ones. These beauties, unlike their turfgrass cousins, aren’t mown but allowed to reach their mature height and flower. Used in the garden the same way we use perennials and other ornamental plants, they add movement, texture, color and grace.

Dried ornamental grasses

Mixed dried grasses, curly willow and dried Crocosmia seedpods make a perfect monochromatic arrangement in a tall vase.

Photo Credit: David Pippin

Garden flowers in vase

Ornamental grass looks wonderful with mixed garden flowers in a vase.

Photo Credit: David Pippin

Green and brown arrangement

Millet, sorghum and ‘Big Blue’ lilyturf add texture and movement to this green-and-brown arrangement.

Photo Credit: David Pippin

Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio'

The dwarf grass Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ is smaller than normal and easier to add to your residential landscape – and floral arrangements.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

Dried grass arrangement

To dry your ornamental grasses, just bind small bunches with rubber bands and hang in a warm, dry place.

Photo Credit: David Pippin

No matter how you use them about your yard, ornamental grasses provide interest in the garden almost year-round. The spring growth leads to summer inflorescences (flower and seed heads), which last throughout the fall and early winter. As the leaves fade to shades of tan in late fall, they still provide interest in the garden until midwinter. Dried grasses covered with frost or a light dusting of snow are quite beautiful! But come late winter, you’ll have to cut the grasses back so they can repeat their cycle of beauty the coming year.

And if ornamental grasses can add all that loveliness to your outdoor space, just think of how it can enhance your indoor areas. I like to incorporate ornamental grasses in my floral arrangements when available and appropriate. Sometimes I use just the leaves to create soft, flowing movement in the arrangement. Other times, I use the inflorescences along with the leaves to enhance the blooms. Mixing grasses with other garden flowers is a great look, whether it’s in a vase or in some type of decorative container or basket. If you’re using flowers from a florist, add some ornamental grass to your arrangement, and it’ll take the packaged florist edge off immediately!

I start using grasses in my arrangements in spring, as soon as they’re long enough to cut. I have to wait patiently, however, until midsummer for the inflorescences to appear so I can cut and use them in arrangements as well. One of my favorites to use during summer is purple fountaingrass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’). In the Mid-Atlantic where I live, this grass isn’t hardy. I purchase pots of it every spring and plant them in containers with annuals, as well as in the garden, and cut from them all summer long. The dark maroon leaves and the soft maroon plumes add some real punch to my arrangements.

Another grass to consider is Miscanthus sinensis, which comes in many different varieties, from solid green to an assortment of variegated leaves. It has almost as many common names as varieties, including maidenhair grass, Japanese silvergrass, zebra grass and eulalia. Like purple fountaingrass, both the leaves and plumes of maidenhair grass are beautiful in larger arrangements.

Drying the inflorescences or plumes of ornamental grasses is easy and can be done throughout the summer. Just cut long stems of grass and remove the blades, leaving only the plume at the top. Bind small bunches together (10-12 stems) with rubber bands and hang them upside down in a warm, dry place. The rubber bands will continue to constrict as the grass stems dry and shrink, so the bunch doesn’t fall to the floor. (Hint: Attics make a perfect place to dry grasses and flowers!)

As the plumes dry, they’ll twist, turn and possibly become quite fluffy. To prevent them from shedding, spray them with inexpensive aerosol hairspray. (Dried flower sealers are available, but in my opinion they’re much more expensive and don’t do much more than the hairspray.) Once the plumes are dried and sealed, they’re ready to use in your dried arrangements. (I have a collection of dried grasses and branches in a vase in the corner of my dining room. It’s an arrangement I update each fall as old grasses start to get dusty and fade and I harvest new ones from the garden.)

When it comes to grasses – this season or next – don’t get bogged down with your turfgrass. Expand your palette and add some ornamentals to your garden, then harvest their beauty for wonderful indoor arrangements! Whether used alone or in combination with other blooms, they add a whole new dimension of intrigue and grace.