How To Have Winter Interest-Garden Grasses
Finding beauty is all about knowing where to look for it. In a garden, it is everywhere, all the time, or it can be. Planting with the idea of leaving be, letting things stand over most of the winter, if they can remain erect with dignity and grace will give interest and satisfaction. There are many grasses of all sizes and colorways that can meet the criteria. The above shot is not a grass, but rather is the fading faire foliage of Lilium ‘Black Beauty’, just because. Onward with the topic.
Sassy and spiky, grasses and grass-likes add the perfect pizzazz to the dreary grey and brown scenery of winter. If there is a white blanket of snow, so much the better. Yellow Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ was first purchased to be denizens of the water, in the pond. It was decided that they took up too much space in the small water feature and they were planted around the perimeter, thinking the overflow would supply enough moisture to keep them happy. They were satisfied. Not afraid to try something new, bits of Acorus were moved all about the garden, including to the driest, sunniest parts of the steep slope. They lived, but were not happy. Learning it is better to at least plant them on flat ground, the crowns were split into hundreds of pieces, filling the ground under the shrubs in front of the main house. Wild violets have taken over there, but when the violets go dormant in winter, there is a sea of gold that brings a smile. Joining the Acorus as the most widely used grass for all season interest is the blue/silver soldier, Festuca glauca. First planted in the knot garden, then spread far and wide as an edger and filler, the blue fescue enjoys regular division to remain in high blue form. Sun or shade, dry or dry, (we really have no wet spots), these two species can be counted on here for year around beauty and color.
Suitable size matters, along with color. Combining the recessive to the eye black mondo grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus with brighter garden bedfellows of the same stature will heighten the winter interest. We do like the combination of the also recessive dark purple Ajuga reptans with the black, especially when the ajuga is sporting the cobalt blue flowers in spring. These two are spreaders, but not in a dangerous way. Acorus, fescue and black mondo could be planted in drifts to form a river of light and dark curving ripples. This idea has been added to the list of future garden plans. Feel free to borrow it for your own space.
Statuesque taller grasses are most useful in every garden. Even though they are not evergreen, fading to the light toasty tan shades, they are quite attractive, whether covered in snow or standing bare to the elements. The blooms come late in the season and sway in the breezes giving much needed movement to a still and somber space. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ is sterile, producing no offspring that can upset the delicate balance of the native flora and fauna. Not all Miscanthus are so reproductively challenged, so beware what you bring into the ecological system wherever you live. These two sentinels stand guard on either end of the curb fronting the main house. There have been many divisions of the one stray plant that was found in a pot of the aforementioned Acorus. It was noticed that one strand was taller and green rather than gold in the container, so it was removed and replanted to see what it would become. It was a lucky find and we were pleased with the reveal. We are in the process of filling the top of daughter Semi’s steep and sunny slope with bits of Miscanthus as it becomes available, meaning when these two plants are large enough to spare some more divisions. Her own first plantings are now large enough to offer divisions, which will allow these two to grow on to a good size.
Pennisetums are somewhat smaller than the miscanthus but still offer plenty of good movement and interest with their dried fox tail blooms. Be sure and get one of the more polite cultivars, such as P. alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ rather than the brute Moundry, which is now taking over the pavement in the street with seeds sowing themselves in cracks. Soon the city will have to mow the street in front here. Literally. But don’t let that discourage you from adding the good guys and gals, including the red and purple types that are not hardy in my zone 7a garden but that do make fine annuals that last well into winter.
Evergreen and ever fabulous is the grass formerly known as Stipa, Nasella tenuissima. This is a workhorse in full sun to partial shade, with excellent drainage. Lighter than air, bending without resistance to the slightest of breezes, this grass shines like a beacon in the low light of winter. We are at the northernmost reaches of its hardiness, in full disclosure.
In the new lawn/meadow area the native little bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scopaium holds promise to add its rusty reds to the winter grass scenario. Seedlings pop up all over the garden, gifts from the birds one supposes, and the little bluestems are duly dug and moved to the lawn. It is hoped the seeding will help fill in a bit more than the three or four plants living there now. Gardening is, after all, about the future.
No listing of Fairegarden grasses could be complete without the Pink Muhly, Muhlenbergia capillaris. It is not evergreen but can remain upright enough to be covered in snow or frost and still be pleasing to the eye. As with all the grasses that lose color in winter, it will be cut to the ground after the new year begins, depending on the weather and the energy level of the gardener.
This is the second installment in the How To Plant For Winter Interest series. The posts will all be cross referenced to each other as they are written with links provided at the end of each story. They can also be found in the How To category listed on the sidebar. The current Fairegarden, that name refers to wherever we are living and gardening, has been in existence for over ten years. The planting selections featured in all the blog posts, but especially in the design and how to categories, have been trialed and tweaked during those ten years. The way it looks now did not happen all at once, but has been a course of gradual addition, subtraction and editing nearly every day we have lived here. Books, magazines, blogs and real life garden visiting add to the core knowledge about plants and design, but like Thomas Jefferson, we are but a very young gardener. It continues and will never be done.
How To Have Winter Interest With Non Green Evergreens
How To Have Winter Interest-Seeing Green
How To Have Winter Interest-Shrubs Small And Large
How To Have Winter Interest-The Big Guys
How To Have Winter Interest-Hardscape