Let’s Talk About Height

Quality time is spent in the garden just looking. Looking and thinking about what needs to be added or subtracted to make the space more enjoyable to the eye. All of the aspects of a plant’s habit are studied and assessed, bloom time and color, leaf shape, size and texture, season of interest. Something often overlooked is the height. Verticality.

The eye travels along the plantings of similar stature in sort of a lazy trance. What is ofttimes needed is a tall element to break up the monotony. It can be a piece of statuary, stakes or a living, breathing bit of botanical brilliance, like the practically perfect feather reed grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’.

Named for the German writer and plantsman, this workhorse of a grass is the selected vertical feature in several of the beds in the Fairegarden. Easily divided, the small sections will grow tall and flower within a couple of years. The clumps also offer movement as the spent flower heads react to the least breeze with the grace of Baryshnikov.


September 20, 2008 032 (2)

Height and beauty, thou name art Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’.


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14 Responses to Let’s Talk About Height

  1. sequoiagardens says:

    Hmmm. Perhaps I need to download one of your ravishing pictures as a desktop to remind me that this must be the summer of the border grasses – not easily found here… Thx for the reminder!

    Good morning, here, Jack, thanks for visiting. Hey, remember to add some large grasses to your garden. Karl Foerster would be a good one, his season of interest is the longest.

  2. Gail says:

    Frances, Karl is one of the best grasses I’ve come across~I love the native panicums but, Karl Foerster is a beauty! Not too wispy, not too feathery~just right. Lovely photos~he looks splendid with the daylilies. xxoogail

    Good morning, Gail. I agree, the Panicums are wonderful and we use them alot, but Karl is the most striking and longest lasting of all the tall grasses. He is practically perfect!

  3. Carol says:

    And it is hardy to zone 5!

    Thanks Carol! Every garden should have this grass!

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have a grass that someone gave me and it might be this. It looks very familiar. I need to sprinkle it around a bit more. Isn’t this the most wonderful time of year? I just love to be able to go outside and relish these last warm days. Dreaming, scheming and appreciating all that has been done in the garden.

    Hi Lisa, that is great. Karl is unique in his habit, you should spread him about if the clump is large. He will be happy and so will you! I do love this time of year, very much.

  5. What a beautiful grass! The photo you took through the spider web is very creative and wonderful!

    Thanks Karin. It is a most beautiful grass, and is that way for several months, well into winter. I cut it down in March. I was lucky with the web, it is not in sharp focus, but makes me smile.

  6. Leslie says:

    Karl really does add to each of those vignettes. Wish I had space for something like that!

    Thanks for stopping by, Leslie. Karl’s footprint is quite small, about a foot square. Nothing like Miscanthus or pampas.

  7. Gardentina says:

    Grew this with daylilies a couple years ago with GREAT success as an alternative to traditional hedge in Zone 6. The grass shaded a window during the summer, while allowing the sun to come in during the winter. Little care was required, and the movement in wind was graceful to watch. Thanks for the reminder of those times!

    Hi Gardentine, thanks for visiting. Karl is a wonderful addition to any garden, goes great with daylilies.

  8. Town Mouse says:

    Yes, I so agree! Isn’t it a wonderful time of year, when we can look around and plan for the next year’s delights? And something vertical is surely one of the most important design features. (that and color…)

    Hi Town Mouse, thanks for joining in here. I do love to plan for next year, which will always be the best year ever in the garden! Vertical is super important, but sometimes plants do not grow to the expected height. Karl F. is as billed, a perfect grass.

  9. Christina says:

    Hi Frances, here you go again, more grasses :-)! Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ is very pretty in your garden! You are so right about the importance of paying attention to the vertical dimension in the garden. I was thinking along the same lines when I looked at one bed in my front yard the other day. I love the second photo in this post. Your are a master of composition! Thanks for inspiring me once again!

    Hi Christina, thanks for those kind words. We are heavy into grasses here, all kinds and they really shine in the fall and winter when the flowers have subsided. Are you sold yet?

  10. Elizabeth McLeod says:

    I love those grasses too!

    Speaking of height…..I just pruned a 22 ft. high mock orange shrub and a similarly high laurel bush yesterday. It was hard work as I am injured and I did it ergonomically with special tools. What a difference! Now the little pear tree I had help with planting 3 weeks ago should get the right amount of sunshine as its roots take hold and the tree begins to grow.

    Happy gardening everyone…….I live in the Pacific rain forest…it is pouring today but yesterday was sunny and the perfect day to do the pruning. May your gardens give you continued joy and serenity.

    Thank you, thank you, Elizabeth. I love hearing about the gardening of others. I cannot imagine such a tall mock orange, but where you live makes that possible. Do be careful with the heavy work, but I am so proud you whipped those big boys into shape! I am a maniac pruner here, no tree or shrub is safe when I have the tools in hand.

  11. Lola says:

    I have that beauty Karl Forester in a pot. Maybe I need to put him in the ground & divide him.
    Your garden is as always beautiful. Fall does seem to bring out some of the beauty that is hiding in the wings.

    Thanks Lola. Karl can grow to have a large rootball, especially in a container. I would advise planting him in the ground and keep a small bit out for the container if you wish.

  12. Rose says:

    Such a beautiful grass. I’ve noticed ‘Karl’ being used more and more in commercial landscape plantings around town, but your photos show it at its best. I love the way you’ve combined it with flowering plants. I seem to be doing more walking and thinking around the garden these days than actually “doing”:)

    It is, Rose. People are realizing that Karl stands upright and lasts longer than most other tall grasses, it is quite mannerly. Thinking is just as important as doing in the garden, don’t forget to write down those thoughts!

  13. I have been thinking about Karl Foerster for a while. Can’t go wrong with ornamental grasses…and this is a nice one. Do you have any issues with it reseeding? I have one of the other Calamagrostis…El Dorado. It hasn’t done much lately.

    Hi Janet, thanks for stopping by. If Karl is reseeding, I am not recognizing the seedlings. He is the only calamagrostis we grow, but Overdam is one that I have seen in magazines and books.

  14. Cathy says:

    Frances, I want to move to your universe. Honestly, it’s out of this world. If no one else has suggested it, you should definitely consider entering picture #2 in this month’s Gardening Gone Wild photo contest. Actually, they ALL would be perfect, but 2 happens to be my personal favorite!

    Thanks Cathy, you are sweet to say that. I haven’t entered the photo contest in some time, my skills are really not up to par, but I appreciate your support and might consider that photo, or another to offer to GWG.

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