Monday, August 23, 2010

Get High on Grasses

It's been really gratifying to see such a growing interest in perennial ornamental grasses in the past few years. If you haven't gotten into them yet, let's try to prove their worth to you!

To begin with, if you purchase the right kinds--those that spread by clumps, rather than runners--you won't have the nightmares of dealing with variegated ribbon grass/gardeners garters. Most grasses, such as blue fescue, Calamagrostis, the miscanthuses, Molinia, the panicums, and the Japanese forest grasses (Hakenechloa, above) are polite clump-forming perennials that stay where you plant them.

Secondly, there's a dizzying array of varieties, flower and foliage colour available today. As with other types of garden and landscaping plants, plant breeders are rolling out new varieties on a regular basis. This is Miscanthus 'Strictus', or porcupine grass, but there are now varieties with even more gold in their foliage.

Grasses are almost magical in the way they catch the light on their flower heads or the bristly spikes, called awns, that protrude from some flowers. This is one of the few hardy pennisetums, or fountain grasses, for our area, 'Hamlyn'.

Grasses aren't just green, either. They can come in a variety of colours, from gold or variegated with cream or yellow and green, to red tipped, to blues like Festuca 'Elijah Blue'.

Some grass heads are more subtle, and need to be examined and admired up closely, as with this switchgrass, Panicum 'Shenandoah'.

Here's a look at some of the varieties we have at Baldwin Nurseries, including Calamagrostis, Hakenechloa, Spartina, Miscanthus, and Panicum. Grasses are easy to care for, with some preferring moist soil, others being quite drought-tolerant. They tend to be untroubled by too much in the way of pests or diseases, too.

Many grasses don't begin flowering until later in the summer, and then hold their seedheads well into winter, providing winter interest for us, and a source of food for many types of birds.

Purple Flame grass, Miscanthus 'Purpurascens' has great autumn colour in its foliage as well as in its flower heads.

Miscanthus 'Huron Sunrise' was bred in Ontario by Martin Quinn, author of the very useful book 'Grass Scapes.' The book is a very useful handbook for anyone who wants to get into using ornamental grasses in their garden landscapes and who isn't sure where to begin.

Come on in to Baldwin Nurseries and see why we think you ought to get high on ornamental grasses too! We're closed on Sundays but open the rest of the week to serve your gardening and landscaping needs.