A dwarf Pampas grass — Cortaderia selloana ‘Tiny Pampa’ was new to me when I encountered it last week at the Floriade Expo garden festival in the Netherlands. According to a recent post from Graham Rice for the RHS it was first discovered in September 2012 by Marcel de Pater and David Bakhuijzen at their Daylight Nursery in Boskoop, The Netherlands. It was a sport on C. selloana‘Pumila’. More recently it has received a number of awards as a new and worthy addition to the assortiment.
Even the compact cultivar of Cortederia — ‘Pumila’ — has never been a grass I have wanted to use in my planting designs. It is large and stiff with too many associations with its suburban misuse as a front garden specimen plant in 1970s English front gardens. I have seen it used effectively in public planting schemes where it was repeated as a feature plant across a large area. In smaller gardens it is just too dominant when in flower and unattractive prior to flowering.
‘Tiny Pamp’a was an exciting surprise as it was planted as part of the ground cover between widely spaced multi-stemmed trees and shrubs. Its planting partners included spring and summer flowering bulbs and perennials and wide drifts of arching, rusty-red leaved Carex testacea ‘Prairie Fire’. The blue flowered Caryopteris shrubs stood out well featuring amidst its numerous flower plumes in late summer.
From my point of view the jury is still out on this dwarf Pampas grass. I have not grown it yet and the questions running through my mind relate to its year round appeal. I saw it at its peak of flowering in a balanced association with other plants. Will it look good in winter or will the fluffy flower heads become dirty, grey and untidy? Also, its foliage is fine and arching but may need trimming back in late winter. As gardeners know, the foliage of Pampas grass is tough, razor sharp and hard work to cut back. Will the clumps expand quickly and still remain as floriferous as I encountered them? Needless to say I will be getting hold of a plant soon to try and start answering such questions.
Nurseries are promoting this “new” plant as ideal for containers. I am not sure about that as out of flower it will be a fairy boring plant. Apparently, there is a variegated clone to be released for sale soon and maybe, then, it will live up to this claim. By far the best way to use this plant is in the way shown here with planting partners that complement it and that offer interest earlier in the growing season.
To end this quick look at Pampas grass I need to mention its New Zealand relative, Cortaderia richardii. This is not a dwarf grass, anything but. I have yet to find a location in my own or other gardens where it could be allowed to throw high and wide its magnificent arching flower plumes. It is earlier flowering and very exotic looking that in turn limits the number of appropriate situations you might find to use it.