Sunday, September 9

Ornamental Grasses

It is very appropriate that Layanee and Shirl chose this time of the year to ask people to showcase their ornamental grasses... it's the time of the year when most of them start to come into their glory in our gardens, with fall colors and showy inflorescences. They also offer great fall and winter movement--check out this post of ornamental grass videos by Craig at Ellis Hollow to get a taste of that virtue.

When I headed outside just now to take pictures, I found that I have more grasses than I realized. With no other good way to list them, I'm going to show them from smallest to largest.

The smallest by far is a carex that I couldn't resist because it's so darn cute! These fuzzy leaves of lady's mantle show you how tiny carex conica 'Hime Kansugi' really is. You have to look over the lady's mantle and between two tall clumps of oriental lilies in order to see this grass, but it's a sweet reward:

Last year, I picked up a pot of black mondo grass that had two small plants showing. I divided them and put one in each of two containers, then planted them out in the garden in the fall. Here you see that one of the plants was happy enough to start to spread this year--I hope it continues to creep closer to the 'Jack Frost' brunnera:
Possibly my most unusual grass, carex platyphylla is a broad-leaf sedge native to the U.S. It is said to be drought-tolerant once established, but I found out the hard way that it doesn't like too much sun at all. You can see the crispy edges that remain from its early summer sunburn, but judging by the new growth it's happier now that it has been moved to a shadier spot. (Click the link above to see a less sun-damaged plant on the High Country Gardens site.)

Blue fescue that I started a few years ago from seed. I had trouble siting these until I decided to let them soften the base of a chimney tile that I set in the garden and planted with lantana. (That's not another grass, but foliage from gladiolus bulbs in the background.)
The bronze carex flagellifera has happily mingled with golden creeping jenny and other foliage plants in an urn all summer. I'm going to take it out and put it in the ground somewhere to see whether it will overwinter. It's one of those carex (carexes?) that are sometimes said to be hardy to zone 6, other times only to zone 7. You'll see two more such zone-stradlers later in this post.
Can I count liriope with the rest of my grasses? They certainly belong by all appearances, and I purchased two different variegated varieties on clearance last week, the golden l. muscari 'variegata' and the paler 'Silver Dragon':
Three clumps of the controversial carex comans 'Frosted Curls' (some say it should only be sold as c. album or c. alba, not c. comans) overwintered in my front garden this year. Three more were purchased as annuals this summer and planted under my purple ninebark in the hope that they are similarly hardy in spite of their "Zone 7" tag. Here is one of the original trio next to an 'Amber Waves' (I think?) heuchera:

I have several clumps of the red-tipped Japanese bloodgrass, but only because I actively divided the small one that was here when I arrived. I always marvel at reports of their invasiveness, because I wish that they would spread more for me than they do. Here you see the red tips of one clump, set off by the silvery carpet of woolly thyme that is cascading over the retaining wall and pooling around the feet of a blueberry bush:

There is a certain grace to the Japanese forest grasses in the genus hakonechloa. I have two, an artfully striped h. macra 'aureola' that is two years old, and a newly rescued clearance pot of h. m. 'All Gold' that already looks happier planted out in the garden amongst the 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga:
This New Zealand sedge, carex buchanii, is sometimes listed as hardy to zone 6 and sometimes only to zone 7. It overwintered in my garden, and I love the way it combines with the powdery blues of sea kale and lavender, the yellow-edged lemon thyme, and the purple leaves of 'Purple Knockout' salvia lyrata:

I think that I might need a couple of larger pennisetums to help eliminate the lawn grass in the front yard. For now, the only members of that genus that I grow are the 'Rubrum' annual fountaingrass and the smaller 'Hameln,' which resides in the drought-tolerant front garden with sedums and golden oregano:

I have shown my 'The Blues' little bluestem before, but here's another shot that shows how well it mingles with the pyracantha that is being wall-trained. I love the powdery blue foliage next to the dark green firethorn leaves anyway, but when the berries turn orange it's like frosting on the cake:

About the same size as my little bluestems are my chasmanthium latifolium, Northern Sea Oats. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of these and their gorgeous bamboo-like foliage with showy seedheads while I was outside. 'Rotstrahlbusch' panicum virgatum is said to be the "best of the red switchgrasses" in marketing materials, but I feel that a couple of other varieties like 'Shenandoah' color up much better. That said, I still like my three clumps of this grass with its airy sprays of flowers in September... but they are hard to show off in pictures, hence its absence from this post as well.

Sorghastrum nutens
'Sioux Blue' is my favorite of the taller grasses in my garden. I started with one last year and added two more this spring. The first pic shows my original plant just after I gave it some new neighbors midsummer. The second is a detail shot of its golden flowerheads, at about 5ft in height right now:

I have a regular medium-green miscanthus sinensis in the front yard garden, but here you see m. s. 'Morning Light' and 'Gold Bar' still in their pots waiting to be planted in the backyard:

By far the largest ornamental grasses I grow, most of the golden zebra grasses are either m. sinensis 'Strictus' or 'Zebrinus.' This one is from a name-unknown chunk that my aunt and uncle bequeathed to me two years ago, but I'm guessing it is 'Zebrinus' because it's not quite upright enough to be ID'd as the other.
(Layanee, really... too gaudy?!?! Say it ain't so!)

Well, that's it for my ornamental grasses tour. Not a bad tally of grasses for a lot that's just a shade above .1 acres, if I do say so myself!


Anonymous said...

I expected to see a lot of grasses in your garden, considering your emphasis on foliage and texture over flowers. You have a nice selection! Though I never can quite bring myself to view liriope as a grass. ;-)

Robin (Bumblebee) said...

The Japanese bloodgrass is fabulous. I haven't found it invasive at all. In fact, this is the first I have heard of its invasive qualities!

--Robin (Bumblebee)

Anonymous said...

Kim: have so many! Great post and thanks for joining in on the fun. I love the Blue fescue next to the orange tile but the Hakonechloa M 'Aureola' I have long lusted after and I finally have one but since it was still in the container I didn't show it. Again, all great pictures and I think liriope counts. The variegated doesn't overwinter here very well. I do always enjoy your posts as they show great combos!

Anonymous said...

Kim: I forgot to add about the Elymus, I think it would work but it is a bit ragged looking. Paired with burgundy it could be gorgeous! Also, Tucker thanks you and is smiling!

Unknown said...

marvelous collection of grasses, for sure. I'd like to join this discussion but not while I'm away in the rugged beauty of Nfld. Maybe when I get back in a week or so....

Annie in Austin said...

You have a wonderful assortment of grasses, Kim - the new gold Hakonechloa is a knockout!

My one clump of Inland Sea Oats wasn't enough to post about, but if you're going to count plants like Liriope and Ophiopogon, however - I have hundreds and hundreds of those members of the lily family!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Carol Michel said...

I actually do have some liriope, variegated and plain green both, and some dwarf black mondo grass. I didn't count them but they are grass like even though they are in the lily family as Annie has noted. I should amend my post but I'm too tired to do so and don't have any pictures...

Your grasses look great and give me some good ideas.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

Unknown said...

LOL! I will have you all know that I thought I was being restrained just showing the black mondo grass (see, it even says it's a grass!) and liriope along with the rest of the "real" grasses. I thought about including my Siberian iris foliage, 'Gold Sword' yucca, and 'Red Sensation' cordyline. *grin* And it strikes me how much dianthus foliage looks so much like short tufts of grass, now that I think about it... ;)

Pam, thank you. Yup, it is a foliage thing for me--hence so many colored grasses!

Robin, I was surprised the first time I had heard of that as well. My clumps in the good, imported soil of the raised back bed are healthy but nowhere near invasive. The ones in the poor sandy frontyard soil are downright pathetic, though.

layanee, a neighbor of mine has the yellow variegated liriope and it catches my eye every time I walk by so it was on my wishlist. I know nothing about 'Silver Dragon' but with that white coloring I couldn't resist planting it near the black mondo grass, 'Jack Frost' brunnera, 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga, etc. If it survives it should look nice there!

I don't even want to tell you how long those two miscanthus have been in their pots on my driveway. *hangs head in shame* And thanks for the feedback on the lyme grass.

Jodi, I'd feel sorry that you couldn't play along with this one... if you weren't doing something cool like plant hunting in Newfoundland! :) Look forward to your grasses post in a few weeks.

Annie, "cheat" away with the liriopes and such! I figure that if you grow them for their grassy blades of foliage, they should count... and if you place them like grasses so that they give you nice uprights of foliage when they're not in bloom (like the Siberian irises) then they should count, too. Right?

Carol, I like your post just the way it is! It made me grin, even though I elected to not show my own lawn grass. :)

growingagardenindavis said... really do have a great variety with some very interesting, well done (to be expected in your yard) combinations!

Anonymous said...

Go the grasses! Great post Kim and as usual your flair for texture and foliage colour is highlighted.

I loved the blue fescue against the terracotta wall. Awesome contrast.

Tried growing Japanese bloodgrass in one of my backyard beds but it failed - or I failed it. Possibly too little sunshine and too moist for this little beauty.

Unknown said...

Quick note: I edited my post to correct a typo and add in a mention of my panic grass, panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch.' When I did, Blogger wigged out and made my panic grass paragraph appear in incredibly small type so I had to fix it and republish. If any of you have my blog on some kind of "notice of new post" system I apologize for all of the false alarms today!

Leslie, thank you! I don't know if it's expected in my garden, but it's certainly enjoyed. :)

Stuart, awww... I'm blushing. I do like the blue fescue against that terracotta color a lot as well. It kind of has a southwestern U.S. flavor, except that it's in a bed with baptisia, butterfly weed and other prairie natives so that keeps it from being too theme-y in that way.

Rosemarie said...

I love grasses and now you've inspired me to add more variety of color and texture to my yard through grasses. I loved all the photos and the variety.

LisaBee said...

I agree this is the time of year for this topic... esp. driving around here in Northern California. I bet by this time next year my grass tally will have increased. I *know* there's room for more. ...and how about sedums & succulents for a theme? They're another thing that's getting me through the season.
p.s. I've always loved your blog's title!

lisa said...

Digging your grasses Kim!! I finally got a pic of my big bluestem with a person next to it so I can demo size....will post it soon! I'm experiencing some zone-envy though, you can grow the mondo and blood grass, but not me...*sigh*. Now that sioux blue is a different story-gotta get me some of that!

Shirley said...

Well, Kim what can I say?

It has been a treat to see your ornamental grasses nestling and contrasting with your foliage plants. I too love foliage plants and we have many in common too. I spotted Jack frost in your collection which I bought this summer – what beautiful leaves it has :-)

Thanks for joining in – it has been great to see the variety of ways that ornamental grasses are grown in our gardens. I also love to read other gardeners talk about their gardens – thanks for sharing :-)

Unknown said...

rosemarie, thank you! You're inspiring me to mix more purple and red, and also to start thinking about where to put a few more tulips this year, in return.

lisabee, I love that idea--sedums and succulents should be next, maybe in October. And then seedheads in November. How fun. (And thanks for the commpliment on the blog title, and for leaving a comment so I could find your painting blogs. You have such a great eye for color!

lisa, OOH--I can't wait to see the big bluestem! I wasn't sure about the mondo grass, quite honestly, but the bloodgrass is a pretty safe bet here. Just think, at least you have more wild-looking areas with cool insects and wildlife than I do in my *ahem* "refined" city garden. *grin*

Shirl, thanks for stopping by. (I've enjoyed getting to know your blog via Layanee and this ornamental grasses post theme.) 'Jack Frost' is a beauty, but I must admit that even I was surprised by how much I ended up loving him in the spring, summer and fall. Wow.

Ki said...

You have a wonderful selection of grasses. For some reason my eyes are not tuned to grasses even if we do have a number of them. I tend to overlook them in the garden. Like you, I should do a count to see what and how many we really do have.

I know we have the Hakonechloa 'All Gold' because you can hardly miss this grass and we have the blood grass which is not invasive at all here. I do like your H. macra 'aureola' which seems somewhat more elegant than the 'All Gold'. Is that why they have pin stripes on suits?

I think my indifference stems from the way the grasses fall over in our garden. Most were once planted in full sun but have since been overgrown by shrubs and trees and have developed the untidy habit.

I'm amazed you can pack so many different grasses and plants in your small yard.

Anonymous said...

Kim: Forgot to mention 'it ain't so'! Yours looks great and so does Annies! Thanks for making me rethink that one!

Unknown said...

Incredible! This is my first visit to your site and I can see why it was recommended to me. You have so many lovely grasses. I am looking for some variety in my flower beds and thought ornamental grasses would be just the thing. The Japanese blood grass and Golden Zebra grasses are so fun. Thank you for taking the time to post such great pictures and commentary.

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