Thursday, September 25, 2008

Diary - My 10 Favourite Grasses

My 10 Favourite……………………………GRASSES

Helictotrichon sempirvirens (Blue Oat Grass)
Zone 3 Ht: 2-3’ Spr: 24-28”
I incorporated this grass in almost every garden I designed for customers! A beautiful silvery blue grass, graceful and arching with very pretty camel-coloured spikes and plumes appearing in mid-summer. This is bigger and prettier than Festuca and non-invasive, like Lyme grass, all 3 of which are silver blue. This is definitely the best and most useful grass I’ve grown.

Miscanthus sinensis (Japanese Silver Grass)
Zone 5 Ht: 5-8’ Spr: 3-4’
Most Miscanthus are very tall, with graceful arching green and white striped leaves. Most late bloomers (Sept/Oct) and in years of good rainfall, can shoot up 6-8’! I don’t cut Miscanthus (or Helictotrichon) down over the winter but give them both a severe haircut in spring. Books and websites will advise you to divide Miscanthus in spring, but if your plant is more than 2 years old, you will need a chainsaw! No spade can divide this tough cookie!! Miscanthus is most beautiful in September with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Burning Bush and (annual) flowering kale.

Calamagrostis x acutiflora (Reed Grass)
Zone 3-5 Ht: 3-5’ Spr: 24”
I have both ‘Karl Foerster’ and ‘Overdam’ (the variegated version) in my garden. Both are stately, tall and straight with golden/pinky plumes and spikes, which appear in late summer. Selected as Perennial of the Year in 2001.

Carex buchananii (Leatherleaf Sedge)
Zone 6 Ht: 1-2’ Spr: 12-18”
A funny, everbrown little grass that almost looks dead! It’s great in containers also with dwarf conifers and beside water. Not completely hardy in my area.

Hakonechloa macra (Japanese Golden Grass)
Zone 5 Ht: 12-26” Spr: 24”
What a beauty (but a real mouthful to pronounce in Latin!) Likes partial shade. Leaves are brightly striped in golden-yellow and green. A lovely little spot of gold in a dark green border.

Imperata cylindrical ‘Red Baron’ (Japanese Blood Grass)
Zone 5 Ht: 18-20” Spr: 12-18”
How cool is this! Red grass!! Very unusual – looks great near dark green or silver conifers. It forms a dense clump – green at the bottom and blood red at the top. The label cautions that it hates and will not survive in hot dry soil or heavy wet soil. Well my Japanese Blood grass is in both – wet clay in spring and cement dry in summer) and it comes back year after year. Go figure!

Ophiopogon planiscapres ‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass)
Zone 6 Ht: 6-8” Spr: 8-12”
How even more cool is this – black grass!! Well, OK – it’s not really a grass – it’s a perennial. But it has grass-like features and looks absolutely stunning against gold variegated ground cover or silver ground cover.

Pennisetum setacum ‘Rubrum’ (Purple Fountain Grass)
Zone 7 Ht: 3-4’ Spr: 2-3’
Grown in my garden as an annual (I’ve tried mulching it heavily over winter but it dies out every time). Its great red-burgundy leaves and feathery pale pink plumes are welcome in the border and especially in containers.

Spartina pectinata ‘Aureo-marginata’ (Variegated Cord Grass)
Zone 4 Ht: 5-7’ Spr: 3’4’
I love this tough-as-nails green and gold variegated grass at the back of my border or near water. Very dramatic when leaves are worked into a flower arrangement. Very difficult to divide. Drought tolerant.

Festuca glauca (Blue fescue grass)
Zone 3 Ht: 8-12” Spr: 10-12”
Fescue grass is a good little silver accent in the edging of a border. (It’s like a small version of Helictotrichon). Several of mine have dried out and died over the years, so they seem a bit vulnerable, even though they’re listed as Zone 3.

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