Grasses in early Autumn

Ornamental Grasses

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Vorläufer’

Ornamental grasses bring excitement and interest to the garden throughout the year when we take advantage of their exceptional qualities, but it is in early autumn that they can steal my heart.

Perennial Meadow Amsterdam

Molinia caerulea Subsp. caerulea and Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’

In soft light their fine details are set against the courser foliage-patterns of well chosen companion plants.

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ with Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Alba’

However, it is when the sun does its best to shine from its diminished angle in this season that the show really begins.

Ornamental Grasses

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Graziella’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Grosse Fontäne’

When in flower, what had been a group of plants that together we referred to as grasses, suddenly their different flowering patterns become apparent. Yes, they are still all recognisable as grasses, but now everyone stops to admire their different flower heads dancing in the sunlight.

Ornamental Grasses

Hakenochloa macra ‘All Gold’

Perennial Meadow

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Cordoba’

Ornamental Grasses

Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Poul Petersen’


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Broken Tulips – The Beautiful Curse

Broken Tulip

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum is a welcome resource for anyone interested in tulips and who happens to be visiting the capital of the Netherlands. Now they have started to share their knowledge and information online at

My earlier post gave some impression of the quality of the museum and its shop and to support their new initiative I have invited one of their team to write a short piece on just one aspect of what can be found within this new online source of accurate information.

Broken Tulips – The Beautiful Curse

By Chris Schipper (@Tulip_Facts)

Flared and striking, so called “Broken Tulips” (or ‘Rembrandts’) are like nothing else in the Tulip world, really like nothing else in the entire flower world. Their bright colors and distinctive streaks immediately grab the eye and don’t let go.

In the 17th century, at the height of the Dutch Tulip Mania, it was these flowers that had everyone running wild. With exalted names like ‘Viceroy’ and the legendary ‘Semper Augustus’, a single bulb could sell for more than a house. Breeders were so desperate to produce them that they turned to things like adding paint to the soil, or buying ‘miracle potions’ from street vendors (unsurprisingly, these did not work).

Now, almost four hundred years later, these once revered flowers have fallen from their pedestal, only grown by hobbyists and rare specialty breeders (although you can see a few in the Hortus Bulborum’s collection garden in Limmen, Holland). In fact, broken Tulips are illegal in the Netherlands today without special provisions.

So what caused this dramatic shift?

Unfortunately, the source of their beauty is also a curse. While Tulip fanatics had long noticed that broken Tulips came smaller and weaker than others, it was not until 1928 that scientist Dorothy Cayley discovered the cause to be a virus.

This ‘Tulip breaking virus’ infects the bulb and causes the flower to ‘break’ its single lock. However, it also weakens the bulb and inhibits the proper development of ‘offsets’, new bulbs genetically identical to their mother. These new bulbs also carry the virus, and the degradation continues until, in most cases, the genetic line is wiped out.  It is for this reason that legendary breeds like the Semper Augustus are now extinct, lost in time to the very thing that made it so famous.

Worst of all, this virus is easily spread by aphids and other sucking insects, and can infect other Tulips or Lilies, and so for a typical garden it is NOT something you want to see (and if you do, it is recommended that you dig out the flowers and remove the bulbs).

Fortunately, for those of us that find the flared look too beautiful to resist, options do exist!  For centuries, breeders have been hard at work to replicate the brilliant colors, but in a healthy and virus-free manner, and the results are striking. If you are excited about the look of these so-called ‘Modern Rembrandts’, some breeds you could consider are:

Marilyn – White with red streaks that recall the famed Semper Augustus

Flaming Parrot – Deep red flames on a lovely primrose yellow

Prinses Irene – Orange flowers licked with purplish flames

But how would you use them in your garden? As always, that’s up to you, but some looks that seem to work well are placing them in pots where they stand tall and independently, or planting them in little clumps against a neutral background (where their striking colors will stand out even stronger!). Some may require more creative thinking than others, but in return they can offer a truly unique display worth a try one season!

To learn more about Broken Tulips and the rest of the Tulip’s incredible history, visit us at, or follow @Tulip_Facts on Twitter and Instagram.

Modern rembrandt images courtesy of Colorblends Wholesale Flowerbulbs (, Semper Augustus image courtesy of the Amsterdam Tulip Museum (, close-up photo of a Broken Tulip courtesy of a small breeder society that requested to remain anonymous, Broken Tulips in gardens images courtesy of artist Takao Inoue (
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Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental Grasses

The warm season grasses are finally in full flower her in the Netherlands. This year they are later than normal as a result of the cool late summer weather. But when they do flower all is forgiven as by then the garden has reached its dramatic peak.

Ornamental Grasses

Cool season grasses such as Calamagrostis (above) are effective in early summer and continue to make a contribution over a longer period, however, it is the warm season grasses that are the real drama queens.

Ornamental Grasses

This is a mature clump of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Herman Mussel’ screening a quiet sitting area at the rear of my own garden.

Ornamental Grasses

The longer I garden the less I feel I know. Pennisetum grasses need a long hot summer to flower is what I tell everyone, but this year the summer was cool, yet this plant has never flowered so well. Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Gelb Steil’ with its yellow glow within the flower heads and their stems.

Ornamental Grasses

Calamagrostis brachytricha always redeems itself when it comes into flower. In early summer it is just a green grass filling space in the border, but then suddenly it flowers and remains effective well into winter. Its common name, Diamond Grass, refers to the sparkling droplets of water that hang in its flower heads after a shower.

Ornamental Grasses

Not all ornamental grasses have to grow in full sunshine to thrive. Sedges, wood rushes and woodland edge grasses abound, but when something with extra height is needed there is nothing better than Chasmanthium latifola.

Ornamental Grasses

Repetition is the secret for introducing the naturalistic look into our garden plantings. Upright grasses, even when they are different species, share many characteristics which allows them to develop a clear visual theme throughout a garden space. Here three forms of Calamagrostis x acutiflora and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’ connect the various borders in my own garden into one picture.

Ornamental Grasses

Stepping back, yet more clumps of ornamental grasses add to the picture making the garden as a whole look much larger than it really is. But take note, the ornamental grasses are only part of this picture.

These are just some of the concepts we deal with on my “Gardening with Grasses” course at Learning with Experts – MyGardenSchool. If you really want to get the most out of this important group of perennials why don’t you join us? Now is the time to study the grasses which are at their peak; in spring is the best time to plant them after a winter of making plans.

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Bright Yellow and Orange Perennials contrast with Purples and Browns in the late summer garden

Heleniums mingle with grasses and seedheads in the Perennial Meadows gardenRudbeckia and Helenium set the tone in the late summer garden. Their gaiety is modulated by the darker brown tones of tinted foliage and chunky seedheads.

Rudbeckia in the Perennial Meadows gardenOur summer was dull in the end and the warm season grasses have struggled to come into flower. Panicums have performed well, but many Miscanthus have yet to show the reason we grow them.

For now here is a short video of a part of the Amsterdam garden that is nearing its flowering peak. Look out for my post next week when finally all the grasses will be in flower.

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A Green Summer Perennial Border

Green Perennial BorderThe border on the other side of this arch was designed to be green and restful in summer when the rest of the garden is doing its best to call for our attention.

Last summer there were heleniums and rudbeckias here but in flower they were too distracting. This year greens in many tints dictate the mood.

Perennial border

By autumn this border offers movement and colour with autumn tints developing in the ornamental grasses it contains.

Autumnal tints in grasses

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Shrubs, Grasses and Perennials making a Border

Berberis, Feature Shrubs

My previous video showed a small border running down the centre of my Amsterdam garden. This second border follows the same line on the other side of the sundial and uses some of the same, or at least similar, plants in order to link the two schemes and make a bolder impact within the garden as a whole.

The end of this perennial border is shaded and the plantings are adapted to account for this – hostas, ferns, epimediums, astilbes and a few shrubs including hydrangeas and Japanese maples.


The first fern shown is Athyrium vidalii and the last image is of Dryopteris wallichiana and the dramatic yellow grass is Hakenonchloa macra ‘All Gold’.

Berberis and Hakenochloa grass



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Perennial Garden – Early Summer, Amsterdam

Helenium 'Luc'

The modern style of mixed perennial plantings uses repetition of the same plants or similar plants to create a total picture. The plants are woven together rather than being set out in contrasting blocks. Even in small gardens this effect is possible as shown here.

The flat topped, umbellifer flowers are Cenolophium denudatum and the bold early flowering spikes are provided by Veronicastrum sibiricum ‘Red Arrows’. The theme in June is violet and pink, but next month orange and yellow will play the leading role here.

Mixed perennial meadow borders


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Tulips in my garden

Tulips for garden borders

Now is the time to make a list of the spring flowering bulbs and especially the tulips you need to order for planting in the autumn. With the bulbs in flower in front of you – there is no better moment to make a plan; if you don’t, many of your inspired ideas will be forgotten when the bulb catalogues are finally published.

Perennial meadow planting

In perennial dominated plantings, spring flowering bulbs are their saviour. In this border in my own garden there are no tulips. I have been adding some extra clumps of daffodils for early interest (foreground), but within a week from now there will be a mass of (Allium) onion pompom flowers to enjoy; however, at the moment this border is just green.

Tulips for garden bordersAcross the path is a border featuring both daffodils and tulips that draw attention to this small area over a very long season; perhaps eight to ten weeks all told; tulips are the real stars here.

Triumph tulips for garden borders

Some tulips are long lived while others are best considered as annuals. These red Triumph Group tulips – ‘Jan van Zanten’ – will need renewing this autumn.

Tulips for garden borders

Early, mid-season and late flowering tulips are worth combining to extend their season of impact. These red Darwinhybrid Group tulips will fade in a few days time but already there is a layer of orange/red Truimph Group tulips – ‘Prins Willem Alexander’ – coming into flower under them.

Tulips for garden bordersMy new ebook on Tulips covers the best ways of using tulips in gardens as well as introducing you to the various groups of tulips to use in appropriate ways in your own gardens. Its time to get those bulb orders ready.

Price €5.99 Euros



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Dutch Garden Wave Tidy Up


Perennial plants in winter

The naturalistic style of planting popularised over the past twenty years by Dutch garden designers, including myself, places great importance upon perennials that look good throughout the winter by retaining their form either as dead skeletons or by way of their distinctive seedheads.


Perennial plants in winter

At this time chaos threatens and the urge to tidy away the dead plants becomes ever pressing. This year in the Netherlands winter ended with a long cold and wet period which coincided with the time, in February, I would normally be out in the garden hacking and chopping everything down.

Perennial plants in winter
This week the weather changed and finally the big tidy up could begin. Everything is either broken or cut into short pieces which are dropped on the ground amongst the crowns of the perennials. This technique of mulching feeds the soil, represses weeds and saves time carrying the debris to a compost heap. Four afternoons work is all it takes to tidy a 500 m? garden; a pleasing task with an instantaneous result – so long as you don’t mind crawling about on your knees.

Perennial plants in winter

Daffodils will now start to come into flower, followed shortly by tulips –  what a relief the show can finally begin.

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Whispering Grass

Perennial Meadow


As gardeners there are two groups of purple moor grass to be aware of: Molinia caerulea subspecies caerulea which flower somewhere between knee and hip height and Molinia caerulea subspecies arundinacea which top head height.


The taller of the two make diffuse fountains of flower stems that dance in the slightest breeze, however they need room around them to fully show off their dramatic form.

Molinia begin to flower in the second half of summer and above you can see a clump of M. c. subsp. arundinacea ‘Cordoba’ two months ago developing its warm golden autumnal colouring.

Invariably, their display, and ceaseless movement, continues until the second half of December when suddenly they collapse into an untidy heap. The lower-growing molinias don’t do this and remain effective as long as snow and wild weather permits; they are ideal in mixed planting schemes and work well as mass plantings. However, for the excitement of their taller-growing cousins we must pay a small price and be prepared to venture into the garden just before Christmas and tidy away their debris.


Unlike other tall-growing grasses which need cutting back hard using shears and secateurs; the purple moor grasses are one of the easiest grasses to tidy up.

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea

Their leaves and flower stems break cleanly off at ground level leaving a hard mounded crown.

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea

My winter workout lasted little more than five minutes, but the difference was worthwhile.

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea

Looking forward to fresh start in the New Year.

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