Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ornamental Grasses

Using grasses in garden design is a relatively new concept. By "new", I mean that landscape architects rarely added ornamental grasses into designs prior to the 1980's. After German landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme began using them in public gardens around the Washington D.C. area, homeowners decided they loved the look as well! Ornamental grasses add an element of softness to borders. They are a fabulous focal point. Also, they are pretty much maintenance free.

Over the years I have introduced a number of ornamental grasses into my front and backyard garden. Most of the grasses are lovely and fit in beautifully - others became spreading pests that were difficult to get rid of once established.

My ultimate favourite grass is Maiden or Eulalia Grass Miscanthus sinensis. I have the variegated form Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus' in three spots in my garden. In the front, it has become such a huge clump that I have to stake it and tie it, so it stays upright. This year the grass itself is about 6 feet tall (and just as wide). The plumes are just starting to appear, so the plant will then be about 8 feet tall!!

It stands out as one of the main focal points of the front garden, alongside the landscape rock.

In the backyard, I added it to the side garden near the Serviceberry and Korean Lilac. This is its third year and it's almost as big as the front one, which is about 15 years old.

The one I'm a bit concerned about is behind Elaine. It's a much shadier spot compared to the other two, so it may just never be as large. Well…. maybe that's a good thing.

A soft silvery grass that never grows larger than 2' x 2' is Blue Oat grass Helictotrichon sempervirens. The blue-silver colour is perfect background for other colourful plants such as bright pink geraniums or Sweet William.

A very elegant and upright one is Feather Reed Grass  Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'. Its plumes are more golden in colour and already appear in the summer.

Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron' Japanese Blood Grass is so incredibly interesting!! It's a short grass (18" in height) and during the summer, has red tipped shoots. These stalks turn dark "blood" red in autumn, making this a small bright focal point or perhaps a very sharp dramatic one, if planted en masse in one area. I have tried growing it twice. Once the rabbits ate it and the other time, it dried out. I really should try again. Japanese Blood Grass does best in full sun and rich soil.

I probably already mentioned this in a previous post but the three previous times I tried planting Japanese Golden Grass Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', the rabbits had it for lunch. This year I planted 2 pots of it as container plants on the deck. I LOVE them! They are graceful, dainty, not overly big (1-2' high and wide) and will grow in full sun or partial shade. I am going to cut them down and plant the roots into an unused area near the gate and put them back into containers again next year.

What looks like a graceful, arching grass has turned into somewhat of a bully. It's Spartina pectinata "Aureomarginata' - Variegated Prairie Cord grassAt first it was very obedient, staying nicely in the areas I had planted it near the back fence. But then it became invasive and took over the whole back section near my forsythia. It is IMPOSSIBLE to dig out and spreads quickly. Oh well - it does have a wild beauty to it. I guess I'll just have to live with this mistake.


Nadezda said...

Astrid, your design is wonderful! When I've see your first picture I was breathless. I love Blue Oat grass, tried to grow it in my garden but it was not enough hardy. Also the miscantus like yours, striped, I grow near the front door, is very hardy.

Astrid said...

Hi Nadezda
Some grasses have not been successful but that's mostly due to neglect :(
The majority of grasses that I have are very hardy and tolerant to all conditions.

Jennifer said...

Hi Astrid, Your experience with Cord grass Spartina alterniflora is a good cautionary tale. I have struggled with getting Japanese Sedge grass established as well. I don't think it likes to get dry and mine has always faltered in the early stages. It has never survived long enough for the bunnies to get hold of it. LOL How do you stake your Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus' ? Do you use a ring or tie it up with string? Mine has flopped terribly.

Astrid said...

Hi Jennifer
I may have to edit this post because I think what i have is Spartina pectinata ‘Aureomarginata’ Variegated Prairie Cord Grass. Nonetheless, it has become invasive in my yard so i would just suggest staying away from cord grass all together.
Yes - I just drive in some heavy stakes between the base and the perimeter of the of the Miscanthus stalks and then wind thin wire around. The grass arches right over the wire so you can't see it but the whole plant stays upright. It's an age thing - it never used to do this in the first 8 years of its life!!
Happy Turkey weekend!

debsgarden said...

You have a nice collection of grasses! I think I like your blue oat grass and the Japanese blood grass best. In my climate I am terrified to let anything labeled 'grass' loose in my own garden, but I have enjoyed them in pots.

Astrid said...

Hi Deb
Good idea about the pots.That's how I was able to enjoy Japanese Golden Grass all summer. Any other time I have bought that plant, the rabbits have chewed it off.
If the Blue Oat grass grows in your zone, try it. It's a lovely colour and totally non-invasive.