A feather in your cap

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It used to be two-and-sixpence for a short back and sides. That’s twelve-and-a-half pence in today’s money. The man wielding the scissors and razor was called Ben, and he operated out of a small, green hut near the Post Office.

That was more than 50 years ago, and since then Ben has passed to that great barbershop in the sky and I have long since forgotten what hair felt like on my head. But I still need a comb – for the grass.

This is Stipa tenuissima, aka feather grass, and it has a lot going for it – if you like grasses. You can cultivate in the garden, in a bed or a border, or, better still, give it a container all to itself where it can grow to become an attractive specimen.

And, of course, you can comb it. A bit like a dog or a cat, except that with feather grass there’s no need to protect yourself from claws or teeth.

It’s not very often that you see someone combing grass, but Stipa tenuissima isn’t just any grass; it’s a neat and very compact, perennial grass, which throws up lots of close-packed, stiff, thread-like stems to a height of two feet. They remain throughout the winter, but come summer, the plants are covered with masses of elegant, pale, feathery seed-heads which sway and swerve in the lightest breeze.

The gardener can leave them where they are or he/she can act like Ben the barber and can them off to dry them for adding to indoor floral arrangements. He/she can also use a comb to tease out the tangled stems themselves. Very therapeutic for both plant and gardener.

Alternatively, instead of hacking off the seed-heads, leave them and they will become important as a winter food source for finches and other seed-eating birds.

Feather grass likes a sunny, well-drained spot. It isn’t particularly invasive – an established clump rarely grows wider than two or three feet and it’s relatively easy to keep in check, particularly if grown in that container. To propagate, divide adult plants any time from mid-spring to early summer. Finish the job with a quick comb.

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