Miscanthus, a varied genus from Asia, especially Japan and Korea, is an immensely valuable grass for garden designers. Offering late-season interest, the grass flower stalks arise from clumps of narrowly strappy foliage in the summer, flowering in mid- to late-summer, but then continuing the show into autumn and winter.
Varieties have different capacity for withstanding the rigours of winter, but typically the grasses colour up in autumn before turning sere and straw-coloured in the winter months. The familiar fluffy flower tassels emerge in a range of different muted shades from cream to dusky red, but fade to soft white during the course of the season.
The grass pictured is Miscanthus malepartus - a lovely species growing to 1.8m. The flower colour is dark plummy red when first open, and the leaves have a silvery central rib. A graceful plant, M malepartus turns a wonderful golden yellow in late autumn - the leaves retain minor variation in the yellowing, but this is most apparent when the plant is backlit by low autumn sunshine.
In fact, the best use of this grass is in a position where the fading leaves and flowers are lit up in this way - if you can arrange it so that the backdrop is a dark hedge the effect is even more dramatic. Miscanthus are robust and hardy plants - their varied height, flower and foliage offer a great opportunity to introduce structural long-season presence in mixed plantings or wilder schemes.