Grasses can be divided into two categories, running and clumping. Running grasses spread by underground rhizomes quickly taking over a bed, and making it difficult to care for the other plants surrounding them. Clumping grasses spread in a clump without spreading around where they are not wanted and they are much preferred in our landscapes and designs, in fact, with very few exceptions, we almost exclusively carry clumping grasses.
Designing with ornamental grasses
Be generous with your plantings of grasses, most plantings look best if there are multiples of the same variety and this holds true for grasses too. Take your cues from nature where plants tend to grow in large drifts and swaths. Use the low growing billowy forms of pennisetum (fountain grass) along the front of the border as an edging or Japanese forest grass for the shady border. In wild grasslands, flowering perennials are often found growing among colonies of native grasses. Try to mimic the look by combining your grass plantings with hardy perennials like cone flowers and black eyed susan or salvias and gaura. Because grasses are mostly shades of green it is hard to make a mistake in combining other plants with grasses.
Be mindful of the conditions of your area in using grasses and use them to your advantage. If you view toward the east where the sun rises, try to select grasses with fine foliage and flowers like Panicum Blood Brothers which will catch the dew and become sparkly with the early morning sunshine in summer and fall. If your view faces west, plant fluffy plumed fountain grasses and miscanthus grasses to be back lit by the late afternoon sun for an amazing effect. Also, if you get frequent afternoon breezes plant grasses in generous swaths in these spaces to create billowy playful movement in the garden.
Many grasses are a bit slow to return in the spring. We highly recommend planting bulbs in the vicinity of these late comers for an early show of spring colour. The grasses emerge and begin to grow just in time to hide the dying foliage of the spent bulbs.
How do I care for grasses?
Most grasses are very low maintenance and generally require no care throughout the spring summer or fall. Because our summers have been increasingly dry most grasses will benefit from a few deep waterings throughout the summer to keep them looking fresh and clean. Grasses are best left late into the fall and winter season before pruning them back for next year's show. By allowing them to stand you are protecting the growing tip from frost which could possibly killing the plant. The plants that remain standing are also a great source of winter interest as the grasses often remain standing above the snow and frost. Also by not cutting back your plants until spring, you are providing habitat for beneficial insects and other garden creatures.
Evergreen grasses and carexes should not be cut back all the way, with this category, simply clean the dead foliage out to tidy them up.
Pennisetum Love and Rockets
This fountain grass is a new introduction and we have been astonished by several features that make it better than some of the other fountain grasses that we have used over the years. First of all it is very early to bloom beginning in August with new flowers still coming into September. The flowers are very thick and full with a smokey purple tint to the me. The plants form a beautiful 2 foot mound of dark green foliage that is more upright than some of the other fountain grasses. As the temperatures cool in the fall, the foliage takes on burgundy tones to complement the abundant flowers. Use this plant near the front of the border or at the base of taller shrubs.
Miscanthus Red Chief
This fantastic silver grass is shorter than many of the other members of this rather large family. We have been impressed with the feathery flower panicles that first open deep maroon red in late summer before fading to silver. As Fall changes to Winter the plumes turn white and fluffy and look amazing when they get backlit by the sun. This variety has silvery green leaves that go a fine golden colour in autumn before fading to tawn brown in winter. This grass is an excellent choice for an architectural statement in the garden as it stands about 4 feet tall and about 2 feet wide.
At the Plant Farm we grow and sell over 40 ornamental grass varieties that are well suited to the lower mainland and the Fraser Valley. We have trialed and grown most of these plants in our landscapes and in our show gardens
Drought tolerant: Blue fescue, a low growing and compact evergreen clumping grass with interesting tan coloured flowers rising above steel blue foliage.
Blurring Effect: Molinia Moorhexe, an autumn moor grass that has average green leaves in a nice clump while the flowers rise high above the foliage on thin wiry stems. The see through effect is enchanting as the plants in the background are blurred by the grass stems in front.
Shade tolerant: Hakonechloa macra aureola or Japanese forest grass makes a lovely billowy show at the front of the border. The least breeze fluffs up the stems of this excellent spreading plant. As a running grass, it gradually spreads but never gets out of control.
Focal point: Miscanthus sinensis Agassiz Red stands tall and strong well into winter. The flowers appear in dark maroon shades, later turning silver. The leaves on this stately plant turn shades of gold and orange in fall
For Containers: Pennisetum Little Bunny is a small fountain grass that is great for a fall planter with tawny fluffy flowers and dark green foliage that turns yellow in the fall.
Intense Fall Colour: Andropogon Holy Smoke starts with burgundy and steel blue highlights that intensify in colour to brilliant purple red hues as the cooler weather progresses. Also great in a large container