Like most young gardeners, in the beginning it was all about flowers. Colors were thoughtfully blended to create a soothing but still cheerful palette. Wisdom that comes with the digging of gazillion shovelsful of soil, pulling the same number of weeds and gazing at the garden that number of hours has taught the important lesson that form and movement are just as crucial to pleasing the eye as the colorful blooms. Evergreen trees and shrubs offer the skeleton, but grasses are the glue, the muscles that hold the framework together.The favorites growing here will be featured, among them the tall Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’.This fine grass was named the Perennial Plant Association’s plant of the year in 2001. I have been a loyal follower of these selections and have been keen to buy them. Most are very garden worthy, a few have been disappointing but Karl has been a jewel. Click here for more fun facts about this grass.In front of Karl grows an assortment of penstemons, nepeta, dianthus and another smaller grass, blue fescue, Festuca glauca. This may or may not be the cultivar F. ‘Elijah Blue’. More info can be found by clicking here. This grass is quite an extraordinary color, stays small and only seeds itself slighty. The babies are welcome here, since young plants do not have the older dead blades that mature clumps acquire. Division every two or three years is necessary to keep them neater looking, but that just gives you more plants to spread about. I use them as filler to keep weeds down until something better comes to mind.Similar in color and shape but slightly larger and less vigorous is Helictotrichon sempervirens, blue oat grass, seen here with the smaller fescue. This grass is famous for color and drought tolerance. It is growing in the bed near the garage that used to be a gravel driveway and seems to perform best in that sunny well drained spot. Click here to read more about the growing conditions for it. One of the fun things about the blue oat grass is the winter clean up technique. Comb through the blades with your fingers to dislodge the dead foliage, like detangling hair. The straw comes right out and there is no cutting involved. Some sites do recommend the knife but the combing is fun and the plant looks good immediately instead of having to grow back. Karl and the blue fescue are in that same gravel bed, among other spots in the garden.Give black seeded fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’ plenty of room, for it has visions of world domination. The middle bed along the street at the front on our property was planted with two of these grasses, one on each side of the clump of roses in the middle. There are three rows of lirope at the curb that have been infiltrated with Moudry, which is fine and even adds more interest there. If any seedlings are found outside of this island bed they are removed. For the facts about this spreader click here.Carex, while not a true grass but a sedge, will be included here. Our favorite is C. flagellifera ‘Toffee Twist’. Click here for the growing details. This plant does not draw much attention during the warmer months with its nearly dead coloration. Sometimes people even think it is dead with the lack of green, but that is what is endearing about it. In winter the
evergreen evertan swirling mounds shine and make good companions for heucheras as seen in this post of Pams’ at Digging. At one time I had a vision of the quadrants of the knot garden filled with this sedge. The conditions proved to be too sunny and too dry for this shade and moisture lover. The large clumps that were growing in concrete pots had been divided to nearly single blades in a fit of enthusiastic cheapo gardening for the quads. Nearly every plant was lost and now there are only a few spots, including the trough planter, where the toffee is twisting. It can be divided in winter here, and we hope to build up a good population once again, in the right growing conditions.Japanese blood grass, Imperator cylindrica ‘Rubra’ is used many places around and about with greater success. This is a runner and is even on invasive lists in some parts of the world, but it is not spreading fast enough for that classification here. In fact a little more aggressiveness would be welcome for it looks best planted en masse and where backlighting makes the red blades glow like flames. It can be seen in the trough photo showing its winter look. I missed this patch when cutting the rest to the ground for a neater spring show. We have it planted along the azalea border front with Sedum ‘Matrona’ and along the wall behind the main house where the sun can illuminate it nicely. Click here to read more about it. This golden Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ is the lawn substitute for the front garden in winter. In summer it is still there, but is engulfed with the wild violets. It was first purchased as a water plant for the pond. It outgrew the plastic pot so quickly that it was planted along the outer edge of the pond liner and offered bright gold foliage all year with absolutely no care needed. While staying in a neat clump it grew massive and the thought for using it in the front under the shrubs has been one of our greater successes. Even though it will grow in standing water, it will also grow on the dry slope, in sun or shade. Did I mention it is evergreen evergold? For plant facts about it click here.Black mondo grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ provides contrast to the Acorus and the greens of the garden groundcovers. The green in the photo above is Scilla peruviana. This black mondo will tolerate full sun but thrives in partial shade and will reward you with pink flowers and black berries. It runs and seeds, but is not a thug. To really show up in the garden it does need some contrast nearby. White alyssum is a divine companion for it. Again, click here to find out more about its needs and growing habits.This brings us to the hardest working grass in the fairegarden, Stipa tenuissima, shown here intermingling with the eryngiums.This delicate but tough grass holds the corner of the daylily hill in place, moving with the slightest breeze under the Crimson Queen japanese maple.It can be divided easily and has been used to anchor the redesigned heather bed. For the lowdown on this best of the best grass, click here. Also known as Mexican feather grass, this is one case where the botanical name, Stipa, is easily pronouced and this is how we address it as we peruse the many places it grows here. For fans of the pink muhly, Muhlenbergia capillaris, we will close with a gratuitous shot of this beauty in fall. While in bloom, there is no grass that can come close to its beauty, so much so that it got its very own post.
Rather than copy and paste all the growing information for each of these grasses, it seemed a better use of blogging space to just give the links for those interested in knowing more. Sites that provide the growing conditions and are not trying to sell you the plants were chosen if possible. But if you are interested in a really good book on the subject of grasses in the garden, Click here to find author and fellow blogger and all around nice person, Nancy J. Ondra’s book “Grasses: Versatile Partners For Uncommon Garden Design” with photos by the superb photographer and blogger Saxon Holt. *And about the title of this post, my apologies to Walt Whitman.
My name is Frances and I am a lifelong gardener, having lived in various parts of the USA over many years. I am now gardening in USDA Zone 7a east Tennessee. From 2000 to 2014 I was gardening on a slope in a small town in Tennessee. I have been blogging about my gardens since December of 2007. Thank you for visiting!
The slope in spring
The slope in fall
The slope in winter
Visit The Hop Ice Cream Cafe When In Asheville, NC
640 Merrimon Ave.
or The Hop West
721 Haywood Rd.
Asheville, North Carolina
Older Posts Of Interest:
The story of the day a throng of cedar waxwings descended upon the garden, shown in the header image. (2009)
An awkward title that explains about making those very tall asters, mums and others shorter by cutting them down by half in May. Now is the time! (2011)
A book inspires the growing of lilies from seed. (2009)
How ten lily bulbs became hundreds. (2010)
A rant about the mistaken thoughts of non-gardeners. (2009)
There was something hidden in the forest and we were lucky enough to be able to see it. (2011)
Dreams turn into reality, in a way. The Green Man/Leaf Man faces live well in my garden now. (2011)
A yard without a lawn. (2010)
A history of all of the faire gardens and a couple of choice tidbits about me. (2009)
Very difficult to only pick your six favorite plants, some of us bent the rules a bit. (2009)
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