Ornamental grasses [Featuring the Pampas grass}

During the early Victorian era ferns were the latest fad for their gardens and the Victorians collected them from the wild to furnish them. Sometimes the certain species were almost brought to the brink of extinction due to over collecting.   By the Middle of the 1800's the public taste turned to grasses when landscaping their gardens. they seemed to like the grace and colour of the grasses rather than the greenery that ferns alone provided.

In many gardens of that period there was hardly a velvet lawn without its suitable contrast of a clump of Pampas grass, either standing as an object of solitary beauty or grouped with shrubs in the background. 

Pampas grass can be used as a solitary object of beauty

Courtesy of Andrew Dunn Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 generic licence.www.andrewdunnphoto.com

Pampas grass soon found favour

This handsome and stately plant soon found favour and became a general favourite so much so that the Garden Weekly Magazine had the confidence in the plant as to give the following advise to growers.--

The seeds must be sown in pots and covered very lightly with sandy loam and peat. Then the pots must be placed in a slight heat till the blades are well developed. The young plants must next be separated  and only a few put into each pot. A cold frame is best adapted for them as this stage, and they require to be well watered. On being finally planted out, the place must be prepared for them with plenty of mellow loams and it must be in a moist situation.

the grass has male and female flowers on different plants. The latter one was best preferred as it was the one that suited our climate. It soon develops a large circular tuft of leaves, which attained the height of several feet and bent outwards in the style so much admired by the coronal ferns {so popular at the time}, until the abundance of arching foliage resembles graceful stems.

From the center of this arching group arise a number of perpendicular culms, at first seeming thickened, but shortly develop a folded sheath within which rests the close packed flower buds. The stems shoot upwards quite rapidly, and they have been known to grow an inch in 24 hours, and they attain the height of five to seven feet by September.

Then the sheath opens gradually and the flower emerges by degrees, at first a closely packed head, then exhibiting its complex and compact structure of branches and buds, and by the end of October, developing into its full glory of a spreading panicle a foot long, and numerous feathery flowers so white and glossy, shining like silver, and so lightly mounted on the slender branches that they seem to tremble in the wind.

The male plant differs in the foliage being less graceful and the inflorescence is later opening. because the flowers open later there is little time in our outdoor climate to produce them before they are injured by early frosts. The stems being full of sap can not take the cold thus they often perish before the flowers are fully open.

Sacchanum ravenae-A modern day hardy species of pampas grass

Courtesy of Daderot Public domain.

Margaret Plues  recommends this advise

Margeret Plues in her book 'British grasses' 1867, gives this advise to her readers " The best way  of utilizing the beauty of the male plant is to cut the unopened panicles before the coming frost. The leaves should then be dried, and the sheaths carefully stripped off. The young florets, lying snug within seem made of frosted silver, but so  closely packed that they present the appearance of a solid body."

" but when this compressed crowd of silver blossoms are shaken gently and repeatedly, they separate, and the true form  of the branching rachis soon becomes developed. thus treated, the heads which would perish at the first frost, leaving the latent beauty undeveloped and almost unsuspected, become the most lovely objects for drawing room decoration possible"

During the 1800's the 'Cottage Gardeners Magazine' gave the botanical name for the Pampas grass-Gynerium argentum. The genus name deriving from the Greek gyne meaning female + erion meaning wool alluding to the wooly stigma. The writer of the article took great umbrage at the popular name of Pampas grass for he said " it is found in no part of the Pampas, but only upon the banks of the Parana and other rivers in south America. { Modern day grasses such as the one pictured at the top of this page  are native to the Pampas region}.

The roots of Gynerium are wide spreading and fibrous and very numerous. The leaves are hard and spiny at the edges. So sharp are the spines and the leaves of such strong texture that they are capable of inflicting severe cuts  upon the hand, and should therefore be treated with respect whenever they are handled. 


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Its introduction

Mr Moore was said to have introduced the grass into Britain and Messrs Henderson were among the first cultivars. It was quite hardy, but these experienced nurserymen found it advantageous to tie the leaves together at the end of Autumn, so as to enclose the heart of the plant and to wrap a mat around.

The mat was opened when conditions were favourable and removed altogether in March. By this means the plant was able to produce its stems earlier and the grower had the advantage of the beautiful flowers for a longer period. 

Associated pages. Click on the relevant content banner at the top of this page. Scroll down to view.

Common grasses-1

Grasses-2 Spreading millet

Grasses-3 Cock's foot and Cock's spur 

Agricultural grasses-1

Agricultural grasses-2

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