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Pairing tall perennials with tall grasses

Val Bourne / 10 August 2015

Gardening expert Val Bourne recommends the best tall perennials to partner with late-season grasses.

Ratibida pinnata and Molinia caerulea
The July-flowering Ratibida pinnata mixes well with the bearded awns of Molinia caerulea

Lots of perennial plants rub shoulders with tall grasses and some, such as sanguisorbas, share a similar profile because they produce maroon-red bobbles on slender straight stems. Avondale Nursery near Coventry ( ) have a Plant Heritage collection and sell the best range including ‘Blacksmith’s Burgundy’, ‘Cangshan Cranberry’ and ‘Martin’s Mulberry’ - although not by mail order.

Other sultry highlights could include Eupatorium maculatum Atropurpureum Group. The black stems and whorled foliage are lovely long before the cloud-like purple flowers appear like puffs of smoke.

Or you could use Thalictrum lucidum, which has rigid, pale-green ribbed stems, shiny arrows of foliage and puffs of lime-green smoke for flowers.

Tall yellow daisies include Helianthemum ‘Lemon Queen’ and the willowy green-coned Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstonne’. These could mingle among fiery brown-centred heleniums and the taller ones flower later, shining in September.

Try the orange 'Baudirektor Linne’ or ‘Rauchtopas’: the latter has orange-backed yellow petals. Add in a rich-blue aconitum, such as A. carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’, a tall lilac aster such as the black-stemmed Symphyotrichum leave ‘Calliope’, or a stately phlox such as ‘Hesperis’. Explore the veronicastrums and monardas too.

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Daisies that go well with tall grasses

Daisies are good value, because the ring of ray petals surrounds a middle consisting of hundreds of tiny flowers so the bees and butterflies adore them - and you get weeks of flower. The following ones are tall enough to support the grasses.

Leucanthemella serotina

A green-middled, white daisy that flowers in late-autumn, looking very fresh in October. It can travel in good soil, but few things perform so late. (1.2m/4ft)

Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks' (syn ‘Feuerwerke')

Not all Golden rods are weedy. This one can reach four to five feet in good soil and it will produce dainty almost horizontal sprays of tiny buds that produce warm-yellow flowers. These are adored by small insects. ( up to 1.5m /5ft)

Symphyotrichum ‘Little Carlow’

In September light this lavender-blue aster glows, with tiny feathered red buds that produce small starry flowers on a bushy aster. Great at the corner of a border. (1.2m/ 4ft )

Ratibida pinnata

July-flowering, floppy-petalled yellow daisy that’s lean and lanky. Mixes well with the dark, beaded awns of Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’. (1.5 m/ 5ft)

Rudbeckia triloba

Short-lived perennial that is shorter is stature, but the small perfectly manicured yellow daisies have brown middles that give them the look of freshly-pressed trousers. Crisp and clean. (1.2m/ 4ft when happy)

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’

Another crisp brown and yellow coneflower for the front of an autumn border containing grasses. Begins and July and keeps going for months. Bushy and reliably long-lived perennial. ( 1.2m/ 4ft)

Thalictrum ‘Elin’

Dark foliage and early mauve and white flowers appear in summer, but the fresh growth is spring is stunning as are the damson-bloomed stems - sothis is a plant with three seasons of interest. Like most thalictrums it needs moist soil and an open position, because most are meadow plants as their common name of meadow rue suggests. ( 1.5 or more/ over 5ft)

Agastache ‘Black Adder’

This willowy blue agastache has dark stems that pop up through the garden in summer and autumn. It’s proved hardy for me. (1.2m/ 4ft or more)

Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’

An iconic Piet Oudolf plant, with strong, woody stems punctuated by whorls of soft-green leaf and topped by small crowns of lilac-pink flowers. Makes a dramatic seed head in winter as it roams through the border. If a wandering habit upsets you, pass it by. ( 1.5m / 5ft or less )

Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’

Clump-forming and self supporting with whirled foliage topped by tapering candles. ‘Fascination’ has lilac-blue flowers and the stems can thicken, or fasciate, giving this lender elegant plant a sci-fi look. Is ‘Fascination’ a play on fasciation. I just don’t know! (1.8m/ 6ft when happy)

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.