I can’t imagine why anyone has grass anymore. Yes, a nice smooth green area has great appeal, but the downside is the continual upkeep of mowing, watering and weeding - watering being a sensitive issue at the moment with some collecting areas still dangerously low. Weeds aren’t selective over where they choose to grow and are as happy in your manicured lawn as they are in your flowerbeds.

However ornamental grasses are a different kettle of fish – they are a great space filler for a garden, particularly as they’re low-maintenance. Many are fast-growing, drought tolerant and will even thrive with considerable neglect. As a rule of thumb, they need fast-draining soil – and are ideal for the landscape of Portugal.

Which ones to pick?

Fast-growing Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana) rise to over 6m high with little need for irrigation or fertiliser. The enormous fronds are beautiful to see moving in the breeze, but unfortunately, it is also classed as an invasive weed, as seeds will blow off in that breeze, and eventually plant themselves everywhere. This deep-rooted, aggressive and vigorous species can quickly take over disturbed and unattended areas, and outcompete native species, reducing plant diversity and wildlife habitat. It can form huge monocultures and is very difficult to eradicate. You may have inherited one, so in mid-winter, it can be cut back to around 45cm tall, and will re-grow back to their original height during the following summer but be diligent in weeding out seedlings nearby.

Red Fountain Grass (Pennisetum x advena 'Rubrum') is a good alternative that can handle full sun, with the bonus of some colour. It is an attractive clumping grass with green-tinged red to fully red foliage. The coppery-pink to purple-red flower plumes rarely set seeds, and they will die back and turn brown at least partially in the winter. You can cut it down to around 7cm to 12cm above the ground in winter or early spring and this will provide a full head of fresh growth for the year. But be aware of the generic species, Pennisetum setaceum, commonly known as Green Fountain Grass or Crimson Fountain Grass, as it reseeds quickly into the native environment. It, and all its cultivars, are a listed noxious weed and cannot be planted.

Platinum Beauty Dwarf Mat Rush (Lomandra longifolia) is a beautiful evergreen grass-like perennial with very narrow green leaves and creamy white stripes. Tufts of gracefully arching foliage add texture to the garden, and can be used in mass plantings or as an accent plant. It also looks good in patio containers or in raised beds and can handle full sun to moderate shade. It is drought tolerant once established but will also tolerate regular irrigation.

Japanese Hakone Grass - this ornamental grass resembles bamboo and spreads by rhizomes and stolons (runners) but it is not considered to be invasive. As a slow-growing ornamental perennial ground cover, it may be used as an accent in a shady woodland garden or serves as a border along a shaded path or walkway. The plant typically grows to about 45cm in height and spreads to form a dense mound of around 60cm wide. Its foliage forms attractive, loose, cascading mounds of gracefully arching, slender leaves that ripple in the slightest breeze.

Bamboo - This is one that might take you over. Technically a grass, it comes in over 1000 different varieties but unfortunately has a vigorous, invasive character, which means it can quickly spread and take over areas where it's planted. Be sure to do your homework before planting this!

These are just a few you might want to consider if you have a space in your beds that needs filling, and will need very little care or watering. They can also provide valuable benefits such as soil stabilisation, erosion control, and habitat for wildlife. Grasses are a low-maintenance landscape option once established, and their deep roots help grasses combine well with other perennials. They don’t need fertiliser either because that will make them grow quickly and flop. They grow on their own with little need for pruning or maintenance, which must be a plus for a gardener!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan