Saturday, September 27

Grassy Plants in the Garden

A very long time ago, The County Clerk mentioned in a comment that he wondered what exactly it was about grasses that made me so enthusiastic about them. I believe that I promised him a post entirely about that very subject... and I'm sure that I will eventually get around to that someday!

But right now, looking through all of the photos I've taken of the garden in the past couple of weeks and searching for a common thread to use as a post topic, it really strikes me how much movement is added to plant vignettes by grasses and grasslike plants. For example, look at this garden picture that does not include any grasses:


It's still a nice combination of foliage shape and color, I think, with the sprays of the artemisia spilling over and mingling into the pots of begonia, ficus and plectranthus that I just never moved off of that area of the driveway. But it still looks like a rather static combination to me in photograph form--even though I know how much waving the artemisia does when buffeted by our Westerly winds!

In contrast, check out all of the implied movement you see in this photograph:


The 'Purple Emperor' sedum arching over the variegated oregano does help to imply some movement... but the background is really where the action is. The chives there look like they're having a little dance party while the rest of the garden is napping! And yet, there was no breeze at all while this photo was taken.

Chives are not really grasses, of course, but they look/act like shorter grasses in the garden. I like the way that their leaves are "thick" enough to hold their own against things like sedums and sages... but then again, I like certain other grasses for the way that their fine texture provides an airy, light-catching foil for sturdy foliage instead. To illustrate what I mean, see how nicely the chives stand up to the rough, silver leaves of 'Newe Ya'ar' culinary sage in this photo:


And then look at how two other grassy plants, Mexican feather grass and leatherleaf sedge, give a completely different effect when paired with the chunky leaves of golden culinary sage and sea kale:


I like both the soothing solidity of the first combination, and the exciting contrasts of the second.

I also really enjoy pairing grasses with underplantings of thick, succulent leaves, like you see here with the brown carex and the portulaca in my chimney tile planters. The succulent leaves ground the grasses, and the grasses in turn make the thick, fleshy leaves lighten up a bit and not take themselves so seriously:


I've always been a "feet firmly planted on the ground, head in the clouds" kind of girl... so these kinds of pairings really work for me! Elsewhere in the garden, I have used hens and chicks, sedum album, sedum spurium, and various delosperma to underplant my grasses. Occasionally, though, the grass can also be part of the "thick" side of the textural contrast:


The grass in the photo above is carex platyphylla, and all summer long it was separated from the Buckler fern and 'Jack Frost' brunnera by a river of golden creeping Jenny. I recently ripped out a bunch of the Jenny to give the broadleaf sedge a little more breathing room, so you'll have to imagine her grown back in (or wait for more pictures in the spring) but it's not hard to see that the carex gives this combination some good texture.

The carex also echoes the silvery color of the brunnera leaves. One other nice thing about grasses is that they come in so many different colors. In this picture, you see more of the chimney tile planter, with the brown carex flagillifera inside and red Japanese bloodgrass at its base:


Behind this tile planter is a nice clump of 'Rotstrahlbusch' switchgrass, which is blooming and echoing the red tones of the bloodgrass. It turns a nice yellow color before it bleaches out in the winter. To the right of the planter is a clump of 'The Blues' little bluestem, which will turn a nice russet color before it fades to a peachy-pink for winter.

That these grasses and grasslike plants are so beautiful in both life and death... that they provide an almost constant feeling of change and dynamism, both during their natural growth cycle and by implying movement even when they aren't actually providing it... and that many of them are so easy to take care of... really makes them indispensable in my garden. I think that my garden would be a much more boring place without them!

26 comments:

Momtosweeties said...

I love your garden pictures. You have some beautiful plants and I love grasses in my garden too.
You are right about the movement. It is really interesting the personality each plant brings to a garden :)

anuj said...

I like the pictures of your garden. I used to give water in my garden regularly.

===================================
Anuj
nitishrocks

Roses and stuff said...

I've only recently 'discovered' the beauty of grasses. And now I can't imagine my garden without those gracile plants. So, I completely agree sith you about grasses.
Katarina

flydragon said...

Great photos again, Kim. I always love seeing grasses swaying in the gardens as I walk around town and tell myself to "get some of those" but so far I haven't done it. I'm so busy looking at flowering plants when I go on my buying sprees that I miss the grasses completely. Next time I'm going to make a list so I don't forget!!!!!!!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

You make a great argument for grasses Kim. I haven't been a big fan of grasses. I don't have enough sun for most grasses. I have never seen or heard of the wide leafed grass. I really like its name too. Plata?? Remindes me of platypus. I would love to try that one some time. I have one big tall grass out front. It was give to me by a friend so I don't know what the name of it is. I do like it as it has filled a hole for me. I have that brown carex in a pot this year too. I have the black mondo which I just love for some reason. Maybe because it is such an unusual color. I guess when I really think about it I have more grass than I thought because I have several liropes. Do you count those as grass? I would love some bluestem. They are so striking. Maybe next year.

Entangled said...

I'm glad to see your defense of the merits of grasses. The motion of grasslike plants is one of the things I like most about them, and so many of them are interesting in the winter garden. It seems that after a big burst of initial enthusiasm, fashion is turning away from them and I think that's sad.

Pam said...

I often think I like grasses more for what they're like in the winter, than in the summer (although there are definitely exceptions). I remember some images of your last winter, with grass poking through the snow that were just beautiful. Here we don't have snow, but I know the birds appreciate the wind break and extra cover sometimes. I still haven't gotten the hakone grasses that I keep meaning to check out - they should be okay here, but if I remember, we might be borderline. I've got some areas where I'd love grasses that tolerate shade. Your place looks great.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Momtosweeties, thank you for the compliments--and for stopping by! I think you're right, they do add personality, don't they? I think that the movement really makes them feel like they are a living part of the garden, and that's why. :)

Thanks, anuj!

Katarina, I never had grasses in my old garden... so I guess you could say that I just came around to them, too. Some of mine were passalong plants, but others were just things that I fell in love with once I no longer had to worry about whether my husband would think I was crazy for planting a brown grass in the garden! :)

Flydragon, just be careful... it seems like when you get started on the grasses, they really reel you in quickly. Next thing you know, you're posting all about your love of grasses in your garden... lol.

Greenbow Lisa, I'm laughing because that carex platyphylla reminds me of "platypus," too! It really is a pretty little grass. I got mine from High Country Gardens last spring, but their website says that it is not currently available... maybe they only offer it in the spring? If not, I saw that Plant Delights now carries it as well, it's just a little pricier there. (The switchgrasses can take some shade, by the way, as can sorghastrum nutens, blue fescue, hakone grass, mondo grass...)

Oh, and if I can count chives as "grasslike," you can certainly count liriope! I have a few of those myself, I just didn't happen to include them in this post. :)

Entangled, you're so right--they are a huge boon to my winter garden, especially since I don't have a lot in the way of evergreens.

I have thought about that fickle fashion sense in regards to grasses as well... I really think that this may be another case where people were led to believe that grasses are "no maintenance," and then either planted them in the wrong places, expected them not to get as tall, or got tired of doing the required cutting every spring or fall. AND that the tall ones are sometimes hard to work into the landscape gracefully...

Pam, you and Entangled are on the same page there. :) I seem to like them year round, even when they are just tufts of new foliage in the spring. That hakone grass should be hardy to zone 9... you're not a 10 there, are you? If you want to try a root chunk in the spring as an experiment, let me know--I can send you a start of it.

Stratoz said...

your garden looks wonderful, I have neglected mine for too long, just visit long enough to get some veggies, flowers, and/or herbs and head back inside. Yesterday I glanced about and was a bit horrified, then took my leeks, basil, and flowers into the house.

gintoino said...

Totally agree with you Kim. Grasses are a must in my garden. I think they complement most of the other plants, giving a sence of gracile movement to the garden. One of my favourite combinations are sedums with grasses, I think they go very well together (I have sedum Matrona with Stipa tenuissima and Sedum Autumn joy with Pennisetum rubrum. Unfortunatelly we don't find many grasses for sale around here and some of them have an invasive potential that one shouldn't forguet about.

Pam/Digging said...

This is a timely post with the fall grasses coming into bloom. I was just admiring those in my garden this morning. Now that I've seen how much texture and movement, not to mention color and sound, they provide, I'd never go without them again.

Karen said...

Love your plant pairings, you obviously put a lot of thought into them and it shows! I love the brown carex, I had a few in pots at my previous garden. I am allergic to grasses so haven't planted too many, but I inherited some with my current place and so far have let them stay despite the seasonal misery, since as you say they provide so much interest and contrast. Nice post!

Muum said...

I always learn so much from your blog! and I'm lovin' that 'New Year' sage!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Great post & great advice. My poor Pennsylvania sedge has been quite neglected & ignored. Now I know how to show it off to better advantage. You've also given me an excuse to get more of the creeping/sprawling Sedums. I've been looking at them all season, but I kept telling myself I didn't have any place for them. Now, I'm inspired. Thanks!

Ottawa Gardener said...

I feel much the same. It's all about movement of grasses for me. I had a hard time deciding to remove my varigated ribbon grass. I knew it was invasive but it added 'sound' to the garden.

Cosmo said...

Kim--Sorry I'm so behind in my reading--I love your combinations--it's really hard to get the right mix of leaf shape and color, but you have SO done it. Congrats, by the way, on your 3rd place in Blog Design--given all the garden blogs, that's really an achievement. I love your blog.

Cottage Magpie said...

Love your plant combos -- you really are good at that. It's funny -- I love grasses when I see them in other people's gardens, but I never seem to make space in mine. I've even bought them, and moved them around a bunch and then eventually given up. I'm not sure why -- I'll have to think about that!
~Angela :-)

Gail said...

Kim, Thank you for this post! I recently purchased a brown sedge (Toffee twist) and you've given me some very good ideas on how to plant it! You are very good with plant combinations; that is a great skill....Gail

joey said...

Beautifully written and presented, Kim. I adore dramatic grasses in gardens yet have none in my own. Just can seem to find the proper place. You certainly have a flair for drawing your fans in. Hugs dear one and happy autumn ;)

Kerri said...

I'm echoing Joey's comment..love to see grasses in other people's gardens but haven't added any to my own yet..unless you count chives :) I've not found any in nurseries around here, which is partly the reason, but also can't seem to picture the right place to put them. You've inspired me with your creative pairings.
Oh, I did plant some red millet in the garden this summer! I guess that could be counted as a grass.
Very interesting post, Kim!
Did you receive the seeds?

Kerri said...

Meant to ask...is that culinary sage perennial in your zone? I have some that I overwintered last year, but thought I'd leave it in the garden this winter to see how it fairs. I think it might be hardy in 7..not 5, which is our zone here in upstate NY.

Chloe Marguerite said...

Hello Kim,

I've been following your blog for some time - and love the rich color and texture of your plantings.

Love the grasses as well - they really add a whole other dimension.

Chloe M.

lisa said...

I agree! My personal goal is to have some sort of ornamental grass in every flowerbed I have...and I'm almost there! They add so much visually, and most are such well-behaved clumpers. The only grass I'm not fond of (besides lawn grass) is the awful ribbon grass that wanders all over, with its' ratty dead lower leaves by June! I'm ripping out every last blade this fall and "confining" one tiny clump in a planter above ground. Wanna bet I'm overrun with escapees by next July? :)

Kylee said...

Kim, you've got some beautiful textured combinations! That's what I love best about your gardens. Is your Mexican Feather Grass hardy? I've got some in window boxes and I'm toying with bringing it in to winter over. I wondered if it's the same kind...

Sod Lawn Guy said...

You have a wonderful assortment of plants, but I feel like you're missing a nice bare spot of lawn. I feel like grass gives balance to everything. But then again, to each his own.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Oooh... I'm so behind on answering comments! Sorry about that, all.

But Sod Lawn Guy, I do in fact have a nice little (keyword, little) patch of turfgrass here. The dog and I like to stretch out on it and nap occasionally. :)

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