A parterre of grasses

Off to Cambridge Botanic Gardens for a bit of late August R&R. I went to see the new, prize-winning lab building, with the landscaping designed by Christopher Anamenthele lessoniana, pheasant's tail grass, spiral garden, modern parterreBradley-Hole. Blocks of yew hedging softened by a colourful fringe of perennials. Rows of the rarely used, ornamental lime tree, Tilia henryana, bisecting the public courtyard. And great views through to the central square, populated simply by olive trees laid out in a geometric design. Striking, clean and just lovely.

But round the corner, the surprise of the day was a modern take on a traditional parterre. In place of evergreen hedging carved into geometric shapes, this is a spiral garden created simply with curls of soft pheasant’s tail grass, Anamenthele lessoniana, which brush your legs as you follow the path through to a log seat at the centre.

This grass is useful for all sorts of reasons; it copes with a bit of drought, it’s evergreen and it manages in some shade. Because of this, we designers value it as a workaday, utlilitarian grass where we want some fountainous leaves, rusty tones and as an tough plant in low-maintenance gardens. So it was wonderful to see it used here as a statement, en masse, in full sun, glinting with shades of burnt umber, gold and russet like the bird’s tail from which it takes its name.

And making a point about simplicity in garden design, too.

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