Glorious Grasses

Garden Clippings for October 6, 2018

It’s October and the garden is tired.  Even though we have not yet had a frost, the annuals in my hanging baskets are toast.  Many of the containers on the patio are looking worse for ware, save for the Coleus and Lantana.  The Hydrangea blooms that performed so well in August’s weather have turned all but brown.

The ornamental grasses, however, have their own agenda.  As days become shorter and nights become cooler, ornamental grasses rise to the occasion by putting on a show we’ve been waiting all year for.

Ornamental grasses are the anomaly in the garden.  In spring when all plants come to life, grasses wait patiently until the soil is consistently warm.  Finally in June their stems come to life, although they are in no hurry to do so.  In the hot months of July and August ornamental grasses come to life and by September they are in their full glory.  Many have plumes that glisten in the hot autumn sun.

Ornamental grasses cannot be described as pretty or cute.  Their claim to fame is in their fine texture and unique form.  Many varieties are upright growing with stiff erect stems.  Others are fan shaped.  Taller grasses have a wonderful habit of swaying in the slightest breeze.

One of the largest families of Ornamental Grasses is the Miscanthus group and the most popular Miscanthus species is the award winning ‘Morning Light’.  Its exquisite vase shape causes Morning Light to beautifully take centre stage in the garden.  Fine textured foliage appears silvery grey in summer with silver white plumes appearing in late summer or early fall.  Morning Light grows to about 4 feet high.

Beware of ornamental grasses that grow tall.  Miscanthus ‘Strictus’ is a remarkable plant reaching heights of 7 feet.  In early fall it produces lovely plumes adding another foot of height.  ‘Strictus’ is the perfect plant to provide privacy from the next-door neighbour.  The issue with larger growing ornamental grasses is that in 5 years the clump may become too big and difficult to deal with.

One of my favorite grasses is Japanese Forest Grass, growing only a foot high with slightly greater width.  Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechoa macra ‘Aureola’) sports bright gold slender stems with a graceful arching form making it most suited for the front of a landscape border.  It is also suited for container gardening.  Unlike most grasses, Japanese Forest Grass prefers to grow in a partially shaded spot.

For a slightly taller plant, ‘Blue Fescue’ or ‘Elijah Blue Fescue’ grows to about 12 inches.  Its well-behaved growth habit makes it a tidy plant for small gardens.  Foliage is grey blue.

Zebra Grass (miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) is a popular medium to tall growing plant with unique horizontal striped foliage in bright green.  Another unique grass is Black Mondo (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ with true black foliage growing only a few inches high.