Monday, October 24, 2016

Favourite Ornamental Grasses: Part 1


I am a sucker for a clearance sale. 

Back in early July, I worked my way into a throng of bargain hunters encircling a big cart of closeout plants at my local Loblaw garden centre. The big attraction? The $1.99 price tag!

The selection of perennials on the clearance cart was telling. Almost everything was an ornamental grass of some kind. Why had spring shoppers passed on these plants?

I think the answer is simple: an ornamental grass in a small nursery pot is profoundly unsexy. Shoppers are more attracted to plants with blooms (even I fall pray to this). There is just one problem with a purchase based on this criteria. If you buy only nursery plants in bloom, your garden will be full of June flowers with little to provide interest come late summer and fall. 

Choosing plants based on bloom overlooks the hidden potential that ornamental grasses have in spades! In the golden light of mid to late August, the magic begins and continues well into winter.

Annual Fountain Grass in a Brampton Civic park.

Annual Fountain Grass in a Brampton Civic park.

Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum

Korean Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis brachytricha at the TBG.

A mix of perennials and grasses at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, Ontario.

Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum at the TBG.

Even into winter ornamental grasses have a haunting beauty.

Korean Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis brachytricha

An ornamental grass makes a neutral backdrop for Rudbeckia 
seed heads at the TBG. 


The other reason I think that grasses get left behind at the nursery, is that gardeners still have difficulty knowing how to use them. Ornamental grasses have really surged in popularity in recent years, but some of us still struggle to incorporate them in with other perennials (myself included).

I was looking through my library of pictures for this post, when I happened upon this garden. Seeing it again with fresh eyes (originally photographed it in 2014) I was reminded how cleverly this gardener used ornamental grasses. They are dotted in amongst the flowers all through the garden. Short grasses are down front, while taller grasses work like small shrubs.

See more of this garden here.

In June, the clumps of ornamental grasses are somewhat understated, but by late summer I bet they steal the show!

Rideau Woodland Ramble Nursery Display Garden

Punctuating a mixed flowerbed with grasses is just one way to go. Massing grasses together is yet another approach.

Two different varieties of Miscanthus grass at the Rideau 
Woodland Ramble Nursery Display Garden.

Large clumps of Miscanthus at the Terra Nursery Display Garden

Terra Nursery Display Garden

One final set of inspirations as to uses of ornamental grasses. Think of them as shrubs and mix them in with perennials, other shrubs and conifers. The result is very textural.

A variegated Miscanthus at the Lost Horizons Nursery Display Garden

A Miscanthus works like a shrub in the this corner planting.

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, Ontario.

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, Ontario.

In part 2, we'll take a closer look at some of my favourite ornamental grasses.

15 comments:

  1. Oh how lovely! Each photo is a delight!

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  2. Those are some beautiful ornamental grasses. I would love to have a big grouping of them in my yard. I will have to take a closer look at them for next year.

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    1. Using ornamental grasses in a front garden is not something many people think to do, but it is a great idea. I have two grasses along the driveway at the front of the house and they work really well. In spring, they do take a while to get going. In summer, they are a low shrub. By fall, they have a dramatic shrub-like presence. Basically, they take over where the flowers leave off.

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  3. love grasses! I really love the fountain shaped ones but they seem to die on me moreso than the upright ones. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Hmm... not sure what might be going wrong with the fountain shaped grasses. Drainage would be my guess. If your soil is clay based the grasses may become waterlogged and die in the wet and cold.

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  4. Fantastic photos, Jennifer! I have trouble capturing the switchgrasses especially, but your photos of it are beautiful. All of your photos are great examples of how to use grasses effectively.

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    1. I know what you mean Rose. Switch grass is really hard to photograph. I end up taking lots of pictures trying to get just a few that are in focus.

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  5. These are beautiful photos, Jennifer!
    It was not until this year that I really began to take a closer look at ornamental grasses.
    We actually bought a couple of types early in the summer, and they did very well.
    We have one kind that has sort of pinky/purple tone to it, and when it blows in the wind, it is just beautiful.

    As always, thank you for all of the beauty and the information.

    Happy day to you, my friend!

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    1. Wind does magical things to a tall grass doesn't it. I love the sound of grasses swaying in the wind.

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  6. Hello Jennifer girl and thank you for your kind words : ) .. it has been a difficult month for me ... I so wanted to be in my garden with starting the clean up but haven't yet .. I fear it will be a very rushed job when I do get to it but I do have Garden PA to help me thankfully !
    I love grasses ! this is a wonderful post ... I don't understand why they aren't used more often in home gardens .. I want to tuck them in every where I can literally "squeeze" them .. probably too much ? LOL
    The Tiger Eye sumac behaves very well .. not loads of babies running a muck at all .. the colour is so outstanding in the Fall but they are truly awesome during the garden season from the start as well ... you have to have one ! I did laugh at what your husband described them as .. thanks for the giggles !
    Take care !
    Joy : )
    PS .. I am still looking on line at bulb sales (Vesey) .. I have boxes yet to plant .. it is a terrible habit, lusting after garden babies isn't it ? LOL

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    1. I have the perfect spot for a 'Tiger Eye' sumac, so it is certainly on my wish list. Their color is so terrific in the fall and the fact that this variety doesn't pop up everywhere is very reassuring.
      I may get some more bulbs, but I have promised myself that it won't be until after I get what I already have into the ground. Some years I am too overly ambitious, and then we have a cold snap and I pay with frozen fingers. LOL!

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  7. I'm trying, I'm trying! but still not there yet with grasses. It's not that I only like plants that flower. I love a garden of conifers and shrubs with their different heights, shapes, textures and shades of green. The photo that could change my mind is the variegated Miscanthus Grass at the Lost Horizons Nursery Display Garden. Beautiful! Similarly, there is a variegated Hakone grass, also a pink Muhlenbergia grass I would use if I were one zone warmer.

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    1. I don't consider that I am there yet with grasses either. Next year however, I hope to create a garden bed that will be largely devoted to them. My idea is inspired by a garden in the Netherlands called "The Feather Garden".

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  8. I love ornamental grasses. My husband says we have too many -- no more! But I love them.

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