Friday 20 October 2017

King of the pampas returns

Tall and lovely, pampas grass can create a clump up to three metres in height
Tall and lovely, pampas grass can create a clump up to three metres in height

Gerry Daly

Pampas grass comes from the pampas plains of Argentina where it grows in good soil. Much of the plains were long ago cleared of this large wild grass and switched to grazing cattle. But pampas grass survived unaltered from the wild and is so decorative that it was soon being used in gardens in 19th century Europe

The recent and continuing vogue for ornamental grasses, such as miscanthus and golden oat-grass, has sparked renewed interest in pampas grass, but the new kinds of grasses are smaller and suit most gardens nicely, while the pampas grass can form a clump well over one metre in width and, in some cases, can tower upwards to three metres when in flower.

Plants of this size are normally medium to large shrubs, and it is in this company that pampas grass has its best role. Since most shrubs are spring and summer flowering, they need associated plants to lift their appearance out of season. Pampas grass only flowers in late summer and early autumn, with shiny silver or light pink plumes and contrasting soft texture.

The most widely grown is Cortaderia selloana, the flower stalks of which can reach to more than three metres in height, rising over the arching leaves. There are several selected varieties of this species, notably the lovely 'Sunningdale Silver' which is big and very wind resistant; 'Rendatleri' with a purplish tinge to the flowers reaching about 2.5 metres, and 'Rosea' which has pink-tinged flowers. There are smaller varieties too, such as 'Pumila', which in flower is only one metre or so tall. 'Patagonia' is also smaller with narrow plumes and 'Evita' is small, early flowering, and has yellowish plums. The smaller kinds can have a place in small gardens with limited space.

This plant has a couple of related species from New Zealand. These both have drooping flower-heads on beautifully arching stems over tussocks of leaves, moving in the slightest breeze. Cortaderia fulvida, from New Zealand, is sometimes called Scottish pampas grass because it seems to do well in Scotland and the northern half of this country in cooler conditions.

It flowers earlier than the common pampas grass, with arching buff-coloured flower heads. The lovely toe-toe, Cortaderia richardii, is a bit tender but in milder southern parts it makes a lovely plant with soft feathery plumes.

Choose a sunny spot in fertile, well-drained soil when planting any of these.

Is my cherry tree too near my house?

Q A few years ago we planted a cherry blossom tree about 1.5m from the house, but I have found out these can grow up to 7.6m, so I presume the roots will go a lot deeper and spread. So I will uproot and replant but how far should I plant it from the house? By the way, the tree has not really grown and is only 1.2m and has very few buds. We planted two at same time and other one is the same. Any ideas? J Bailey, Co Meath

A Unfortunately, 1.5m is too close to a house, make it more than 5m. The trees are easily moved in November if they are so small, and probably they were planted too deeply originally, or the ground is too wet. Move them to where the soil is well-drained if this is the case.

Send your questions to gerrydaly@independent.ie. Questions can only be answered on this page.

Sunday Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life