Last one standing: Bowles’ golden grass

Experimentation is the key to gardening and most gardeners including, famously, E A Bowles always recommend trying a plant three times, in various parts of the garden, before giving up on it. Our gardens, however small, vary in soil moisture and structure, sun or shade and wet or dry. There is usually a spot where most common plants will thrive even though it may not be where we really wanted them to grow. As this garden is new and I am still learning, when I grow a batch of plants from seed I scatter them around the place to hope that some of them will be happy. Two years ago I grew dozens of Milium effusum ‘Aureum’ from seed. It is a plant that I am familiar with, a yellow-leaved form of wood millet, discovered and made famous by Bowles. It is now fairly common and a valuable plant. It is light and airy and a good perennial grass. It usually seeds around and, when I was Head Gardener at Myddelton House, grew it among Smyrnium perfoliatum and bluebells and the effect was very beautiful – the perfect contrast of lime, yellow and blue – in spring at least!

So, for old times sake, I wanted to have the grass in the garden here. But it had other ideas. Gradually, with withering leaves, and glances, all the plants put in the hazel garden died. I think it was a combination of full sun and dry soil in summer. They just couldn’t hang on till the hazels provided the necessary shade. Maybe I just rushed the planting (well I did). In the woodland bed, north of the young cotoneaster hedge, they also eventually gave up. I could, and perhaps will, lay the blame on leatherjackets, the grubs of daddy-long-legs. Because this garden is being made from a field, and surrounded by field, the natural habitat of these flies, the soil is full of them, even when dug over for beds. As I weed or examine dead young plants I often find a leather jacket in the soil – and kill it. They love grass roots and often make dead patches in lawns as they devour the roots. It is not unlikely that they would focus on my milium.

But one plant, in what I will call the styrax bed since this tree seems to have established itself (the davidia which could have given its name to the bed turned up its toes after a year) has hung on and looks happy. It looks as though there are flowering shoots growing so I hope it will now spread itself. Behind it, under the hornbeam hedge, are lots of primula ‘Francisca’ with green flowers and if the two grew happily together I would be very happy.

2 Comments on “Last one standing: Bowles’ golden grass”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    April 24, 2022 at 9:16 am #

    It’s a good plant but I have also found it finicky about its position

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