This is a particularly special moment of late garden and first autumn colour. On the front line to protect from the westerlies, I’ve planted the Scarlet Hawthorn (Crataegus coccinea) and a medlar. They both provide blossom and now fruit and, in the short time they have been there, a pool of stillness for the company that needs it at their feet.
Held and protected here, the Wood Oat, or aptly named Shimmer Grass, have found their niche amongst the wind anemones. I planted them throughout the bed. but towards the edges, so that we could enjoy their autumnal arc and mobility. To test their preference, because every garden has rules that do and don’t apply, a few were scattered to the windward side, because the breeze in their growth is what they need to shimmer. I know them to do best in a little shade, or more precisely on the edge of things, and sure enough those on the front line are a shadow of the plants that have thrived with the microclimate of company. Seeding about gently now, they have alighted where they tell me they want to be. On the leaward side and on the margins where, to be honest, they are most easily admired.
If you are to look Chasmathium up, their many common names probably result from their wide distribution, which dips into northern Mexico and travels north up the States in the shelter of wooded places. Though Wood Oats are certainly not of these shores they do not immediately make you think of somewhere else, like Miscanthus do of the orient. Feeling similar to our woodland Melica and preferring the same places I can see them becoming very much part of this garden. The sun loving Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ that have splayed over the paths this year where they have been overshadowed by plants that have done better than I thought, will be moved to make way for a more suitable grass. The Chasmanthium will be perfect here, happy to tick along in company and rewarding us with good behaviour and poise and well-paced growth that peaks so beautifully now.
Clumping, not running and a reliably long-lived grass, I enjoy their windswept forms over the winter and cut them back to make way for snowdrops early in the new year. Wide blades, a finger’s width of a cool bright green, then stagger their way up dark stems to about knee height before they begin to throw flower in high summer. There is nothing ungainly about the Shimmer Grass and this is when they begin to, with the first sighting of flower. Firstly tiny darkened versions of what they are working towards and then slowly gaining more presence as the foliage colours butter yellow and the Asters, Colchicum and Anemone begin to provide their backdrop. Completely flat, as if they have been pressed between the leaves of a book and catching, they need the breeze, just enough to make them dart on their wire thin stems like shoals of fish darting and shimmering in the sea.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 10 October 2020