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!