Grasses and grass type grasses will give a totally different look to any area. For deserted urban places they can add to the derelict feel but in well maintained gardens they can make an area feel restful and cool.

Just the thing after a hard day at the office. It is the reason why “resorts” use plenty of grasses and grass type plants in their landscaping. The same effect can be created quite easily with careful planning which would include wise choices of plant material.

Used in straight lines and a small number of different species, grasses will give quite a formal feel while still looking cool and relaxed. Used with other shrubs and trees in random groups they will and can look quite natural.

Contrasting colours will create dramatic scenes especially when very dark leaves are used against very light mulches such as white gravel. Very fine leaves against dark flat ground cover such as Myoporum parvifolium “Maroon” will do the same job. The strong contrast of any grassy plant or grass like plant with rounded shrubs is often enough of a contrast for most of us. The modern minimalistic wide spaced grass look will only look right with the same sort of building design.

Some of the traits of true grasses include a fine mat like root system. Many have wind borne seed and don’t “flower” as we normally think of flowering plants. Flower they do, and produce huge quantities of seed and some have made the most common weed species we have all grown to hate. (Think of love grass and gentle Annie!) Pampas grass is also a major weed in forests in many places. Thankfully many others are quite benign and very well behaved. Many are used as food and nesting material by the birds.

The alternative of true grasses is plants like mat rushes, lilies and so on which will if used well gives a similar and often the same effect as grasses without the invasiveness of many grasses. Some examples would include our local Dianella revoluta which grows in our mallee and can be used in the toughest of spots and will respond magnificently if the going is easy. It produces blue flowers in spring followed by blue berries which the birds will come for. Many and varied forms from 30cm to a lush 1m or so are available. Lomandra longifolia or mat rushes are often lusher looking but will need more water to achieve this. Again, many different forms are available. Our own local Lomandra effusa is worth using although difficult to propagate in good numbers. It is very low and innocuous but completely redeemed by its scented cream flowers which sends its sweet fragrance over a very large area.

Out of the true grasses, one of my favourites would have to be Triodia spp. (porcupine grasses and Spinifex) with a sharp needle end to the leaf and beautiful flower and seed heads which turn brilliant orange late in the day.

The trick with any of the grasses and grass like plants is to not use too many or too many different types. Have a look around some of the gardens locally and you will know what I mean. Grasses in gardens will either look or feel right or it will in some way be crowded and or messy.

The easiest way to maintain them all is to set them alight! (But not in public areas or if you have timber based mulches, plastic drip line or if you live in town and don’t want to annoy the neighbours.) The alternative is to cut them back.

So if you want the resort look at home, start researching grasses and grass like plants now.

This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © April 8, 2010.