Urban gardener, Cleve West: Pampas yourself

Friends who have just finished building a garden in Berrylands, Surrey, are now looking forward to planting. The garden, an exercise in paring down and simplicity, has box and yew stalwarts accentuating the structured minimalism; they are looking for a semi-ordered jumble of grasses, perennials and bulbs to provide some seasonal interest. When my list of suggestions included pampas grass, there were sniggers all round. I started defending this much-maligned South American grass, but the more I tried to justify its inclusion, the louder the laughter until, virtually unable to speak with mirth, they told me that pampas grass carried certain overtones … Call me naïve, but it's the first time I've heard that pampas is generally accepted as a signal for extra marital activities, namely wife-swapping.

Whether this is true or not, I don't know. Perhaps it was a desperate attempt, by someone who hated the grass, to frighten off anyone contemplating using it and so halt its spread across suburbia. It did nothing of the sort - indicating that either no one took any notice and planted it just for its looks, or that word went round in a flash among swinging folk, sparking an enthusiastic upsurge of sales.

Regardless of your sexual proclivity, anyone who has ever grown pampas grass will tell you that, out of all the grasses, it is something of a brute, spreading to a diameter of almost two metres. Those who are beguiled by its evergreen leaves and three-metre-high plumes that last all winter long often fail to make allowances for this and have the unenviable job of having to grub it out when it's impossible to get to the front door without lacerating blades drawing blood from bare flesh.

The plumes themselves are stunning but, on reflection, display the artificiality of a slightly dodgy craft section at a pre-Christmas garden centre, a trait that is perhaps the main reason for their decline in popularity since the Eighties. This is unfortunate, as the grass was never meant to be scrutinised up close. Left to its own devices, any self-respecting pampas would much rather be seen from a distance in drifts on the plains of Patagonia than in the backyards of Berrylands where neat lawns and crazy paving can nullify its potency at a stroke.

Having eulogised enough over Cortaderia selloan, I ignored the ongoing guffaws to explain that I'd had in mind the more graceful C. richardii 'Toe Toe' (more giggles), pronounced "Toy Toy" (now hoots of laughter), a pampas grass from New Zealand. Its nodding, pendant flowers in summer make it altogether more pleasing. Being more a designer than plantsman I rarely play that dangerous game of showing-off with plant names, but by mentioning that this was similar to another member of the Poaceae family, Ampelodesmos mauritanicus (same height but only spreading to just over a metre), I hoped to bore them out of the ensuing hysterics. It worked for a bit but the wisecracks returned (with a touch of indignation thrown in for good measure) when I suggested a smaller variety, C. pumilla.

For those of you who want to ignore the suggestive overtones and bring more pampas into your life, C.' Sunningdale Silver' is a particularly beautiful variety with a thicket of elegant flowers. All pampas grasses are generally unfussy about soil type, so long as it's not too alkaline. Spring is the best time to tidy them up by removing spent flower heads and cutting back foliage. Some people set fire to pampas believing this to be good for them but - aside from the obvious danger to nearby buildings - I'm not so sure about the wisdom of such advice and prefer to just trim them back as hard as is necessary. A dishevelled clump that has lost its form can be grubbed out with a mattock (not as easy as it sounds) and a piece of it re-planted in some fresh soil and compost.

If you like the idea of pampas but are worried about what your neighbours might think, my advice would be to walk your own path and keep everyone guessing. You might even grasp this notion of using plants as subtle signals and extend it to politics, religion, allegiance to a particular football club or gang. Just the thing, perhaps, to add a touch of mystery to our front gardens.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

£40 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse needed in salfordI a...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape