Published in Eumundi Green Issue 179

Life on a Better Ridge The Value of Vetiver

You would never know just from looking at these large clumping grasses that they hold so much value! Vetiver (chrysopogan zizanioildes) has many and varied uses and grows superbly in our local climate. A native to India, vetiver is grown commercially and domestically in tropical countries around the world. On our Better Ridge, we mainly use vetiver as a hedge plant around garden beds and for erosion control on the slopes of the property.

Because of their deep roots (which can grow from 3-5m down), vetiver is very effective at slowing down water and minimising soil erosion. In fact, this plant is so good at water and soil conservation there is a recognised ‘vetiver system’ in which the plants are grown closely together in hedgerows to form a thick barrier of grass above and roots below the grounds which slow down floodwaters and high rainfall run-off, preserving precious topsoil.

One of the most delightful things about working with vetiver, and another fragrant reminder of spring, is the scent of the roots. As the species grows in clumps and requires stems to be cut or teased apart for separation and propagation, there is ample opportunity to experience their deeply sweet and heady aroma. As a ‘scent-ual’ person, I was not surprised to learn that 90 per cent of all Western perfumes rely on vetiver for their base.

At this time of year, we dig out the biggest clumps and divide them for planting as single stems. If we have the need, or the room, they are planted directly into their final position, if not, we pot them up for later, letting their roots become strong and well established before again planting them out. An important point to note is that if their position is too shady, their roots will not grow very deep or strong. So, placing the pots in the sun after they have been potted up goes a long way to making sure they are hardy and will do their job well once plated into their final locations.

In line with the core philosophy on our Better Ridge, this one simple grass serves many purposes. The cut grass can be made into twine and thatching to put on a frame over young seedlings while they become sun hardy as well as used as a mulch or livestock feed. In India, a matting is often made of the roots and hung over windows or in doorways during the hottest months. This not only provides shade from the punishing heat of the sun, but if it’s misted with water, it cools and fragrances the air. However, around here, both the roots and the grass are made into beautiful and practical baskets for daily life.