A free light display is something most of us would probably love to have in our gardens if asked. Yet so often when planning and planting our border displays we make no provision for, or possibly even think about, using those plants such as the ornamental grasses that have the ability to be spectacularly lit up by low autumn and winter sunshine and so provide us with a free display whenever the sun shines.
This is known as being backlit, and its really not at all difficult to achieve in our gardens. The flowers of grasses are quite superb, even unrivalled, at gathering light and reflecting it so that the flowers can quite literally seem as if they are wired up to the mains such is the intensity of their display. And it is all an entirely free extra that can be had by choosing a few of the right plants. This almost magical quality can be found in any of the ornamental grasses but is most effective on those such as the miscanthus in the picture above that hold their flowers clear of the foliage, almost antennae like, to catch the sunlight.
All the fountain grasses such as Pennisetum Hebstzauber (pictured above), Pennisetum Hameln, Pennisetum macrourum, and Pennisetum Cassians Choice to name but a few, have this ability to quite literally shine when hit by low level sunshine.
Not to be outdone the prairie switch grasses, Panicum virgatum and its cultivars such as Panicum Heavy Metal or Panicum Northwind, can put on an equally breathtaking display as you can see from the picture below. Taken in my own garden at Knoll, the thousands and thousands of tiny dried grass flowers gather and reflect the light in a transient but regular display that is perhaps made all the more wonderful by the surrounding dullness of a bleak winters morning.
Having chosen the ornamental grasses that are best for your garden placing them so that they will get either morning or evening sun, or both, is all you need do to ensure a regular supply of rather wonderful sunlit winter moments.
Many plants will reflect light to some degree, but there are very few that can out perform or are so easy to use as the ornamental grasses. Their ability to stand during the winter months, to move in the slightest breeze, and then to electrify us with their sudden light fuelled performances at a time when most other plants are dormant and least interesting, must surely make then amongst the most useful groups of plants for our gardens.