Contributed by Ginny Oakes

On April 20, 2018

a giant of a grass

Stipa gigantea, commonly known as golden oats, is in the family Poaceae. It is the largest stipa but, by no means, a giant grass. It is, however, a giant in its beauty and the spectacle it makes in the garden. Narrow leaves form a low evergreen mound about 60 cm high. It blooms in early summer, the huge, golden open panicles held high on stems to about 2 m tall. After flowering the panicles fade slightly in colour but remain looking great right into the winter when the stems can be cut down. The name Stipa is from the Greek, stuppe meaning tow, alluding to the flaxen appearance of the feathery awns of the original species, tow being the coarse and broken part of flax or hemp prepared for spinning. It gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

Stipa gigantea looks good in many positions in the garden but particularly placed either side of a pathway, entrance or garden feature, where it can provide a highlight without being overpowering. This quality can also be used to good effect when it’s planted where it can be seen through, allowing glimpses of the garden beyond.

It can be found growing wild in Spain, Portugal and Morocco on dry, rocky hillsides so needs similar conditions in the garden, a well-drained soil in a sunny position. Being evergreen it does not require cutting back annually as we do with grasses such as miscanthus. Combing through to remove old foliage and trimming the leaves a little, as well as cutting out the old flowering stems, should be all that’s necessary to keep a clump looking good.

Then you can sit back and enjoy this spectacular plant that members rate very highly. It is the only grass in our Top 30, which is quite a responsibility. But I think this giant is up to the task!




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