Friday, September 28, 2007

Roll Call For Grasses

I'm just beginning to delve into The Wonderful World of Grasses and am convinced that they're way underused at Our Little Acre. I've not seen them used all that effectively in very many back yard gardens, and I suspect it's because most people don't really know how to do it, so they tend to avoid planting them. That has been pretty much the case with me, but I decided to do what I do with the rest of my garden choices - just buy them and find a place to put them.

I think the first ornamental grass I ever bought was the dramatic Porcupine Grass (Miscanthis sinensis 'Strictus'). Growing to a height of 5-6 feet, it becomes more of a foundation piece in the garden. I have two clumps of it in the Japanese Garden, with a large rock at the base of this one.

It never occurred to me that there are people out there that don't like the look of Porcupine or Zebra Grass , but when Kara and I were recently browsing Lowe's, she commented that she didn't care for it as we passed by. I like it because it's vigorous and it's tall and certainly commands attention. The kitties like its plumes, too.

I've got several varieties of ornamental grasses and I love most of them. There is one that I wish I could say I loved, but I don't, and its days are numbered here I think: Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinacea). I do love the variegation and the rustling sound it makes when the wind blows through it. But it's so darned invasive! Like most grasses, it spreads by underground runners and it's not shy about doing so. I have had this in my garden for two summers now and it's creeping perilously close to the compost heap. And I'm not even sure I want it in there.

But these are keepers:

There are several grasses pictured here around the cairn. Just in front of the dreaded Ribbon Grass on the left side is Blue Fescue (Festuca ovina var. glauca 'Elijah Blue'). It's not looking its best just now, but this is typical of it at this time of the year. It normally looks like a lovely blue mound.

The tallest one on the left is Maiden Grass (
Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus'). I have this in four different locations and that's no accident. It is a winner no matter where I've used it. It returns in the spring reliably and always looks good.

Next to that is one of my very favorites, Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). It's graceful and I love the fans of seed heads it gets. In the summer they're green, then in the fall they turn golden. If you don't want this grass coming up in far-away places in your garden, be sure to cut the seed heads before they turn color. I've not found it to be problematic, because the new seedlings pull up very easily, unlike that darn ribbon grass.

On the back side of this, out of view, is
Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurescens'). It's not grown much since I planted it last year and I'm not sure why, unless the other grasses are stealing what it needs. Maybe next year it will take off.

This Sedge (Carex ciliatomarginata) is called 'Treasure Island.' Sedges are similar to grasses in appearance, but they have solid stems, unlike grasses, which are hollow. They grow well in moist and poor soils.

This is part of the newly-designed front border garden below our porch railing. For years we had a nice crop of vinca (Vinca minor) growing here along with a couple nice shrubs, but every single thing died through the winter this past year! Landscaping is NOT my thing, so this bed floundered until mid-summer. I tried various things, but have settled on these grasses along with some variegated euonymous. The euonymous isn't my favorite of shrubs, but it works for me here (it's beyond the grasses, out of view in this picture), and the price was right. There are three levels, and front to back are:

  • Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance')
  • Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuriodes 'Hameln')
  • Maiden Grass (Miscanthis sinensis 'Gracillimus') - this Miscanthus was a division of another clump I already had. It grew well enough that I was able to divide it after only one year.

I'm not sure if this Hard Rush (Juncus inflexus 'Afro') on the left, is considered to be a grass or not, but it can be used like one. This one used to live in the ground at the base of the willow tree, since they both love moist soils, but when we put in our small pond, I moved it in there, along with the dock. Juncus has a tough wiry texture, just as it appears it might. It's listed as only being hardy to zone 7, but I've got two of them that made it quite well through our winter in a fairly open location.

Lilyturf (Liriope muscari) is a great shade grass that I use to define part of the front border of the trellis area. I have it clumped here and there throughout this shady area as well. On our recent trip to Columbus, I purchased a variegated liriope, which looks like a twin to the Japanese Sedge 'Ice Dance,' shown previously in this post.

This Japanese Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus 'Oborozuki') is listed as being hardy to zone 6, but it has survived at least one zone 5 winter just fine.

Here is Fountain Grass 'Hameln' again. It's looking mighty fine this year, its second in my garden. It is at the apex of a triangular section of the garden and I'm happy with its placement there.

I bought this fuzzy grass very early this year and it didn't have an ID tag, other than to give the necessary requirements for growing it. It was just labeled "Ornamental Grass." I like its hairiness and it has been very well-behaved here in mostly shade and if anyone has a clue as to what it really is, please share your knowledge!

UPDATE! I found the ID tag for this. It's Snowy Woodrush (Luzula nivea 'Lucius')


Unknown said...

A delicious collection of grasses, Kylee! I don't have nearly so many yet--emphasis on YET--but we have some of the same tastes. I have the curly rush too, which is a fascinating plant, and you're bang on about gardener's garters, or varigated ribbon grass. It's a naughty little over achiever, but not as bad as bishops weed, thankfully.
Grasses are just coming into their own here, with both foliage colours and flowers showing up beautifully. I'm so glad to see so many people catching on to them, aren't you?

Unknown said...

Oh I LOVE that 'Treasure Island' carex! You have some wonderful grasses--some of which, like 'Hameln' and Northern Sea Oats, I have as well. (So, see, you don't have to worry so much what I'll think of your garden! lol.)

My favorite, though, is that acorus next to what I assume is a euphorbia. I'm hoping you tell me that's 'Efanthia' because I'm about to go buy some of it this weekend on clearance at a local garden center and yours is beautiful.

Unknown said...

Btw, you said it's hairy... and it looks sharp-edged, like a sedge... so try googling "carex hirta" and see if it might be a "hairy sedge." I'll warn you that I'm usually wrong on green grass IDs, but hey, it's a start!

Bob said...

I'm glad you posted on grasses. They are great and very underused. Being trend plants you'll be seeing more and more of them in the market place. You have a picture of my personal favourite grass --- P. 'Hamlin', I have 18 in my garden. They are the best!

Kylee Baumle said...

Jodi - Yes, I'm glad that grasses are catching on, because that will mean more choices for us. I want MORE!

Kim - Yes, my dear, that's 'Efanthia.' I've got 'Chameleon' just outside the photo, too, and I love it. It looks very similar to 'Efanthia' except that it's a little taller and more airy.

I checked out the Carex hirta and I don't think that's it. I'm going to go through my mountains of plant ID tags and see if by chance it IS in there, but I really don't think it came with one with a name or I would have made a garden tag for it and I didn't.

Bob - EIGHTEEN!!! Wow! I do love 'Hameln.' It's very hearty and always looks good.

Kylee Baumle said...

GUESS WHAT I FOUND??? The ID tag for the last grass. I guess I just neglected to make a labeled marker for it when I got it.

It is *drum roll*

(Luzula nivea 'Lucius')

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