From the E-Newsletter:
Grasses: Miscanthus and Pennisetum
Many gardeners find it hard to incorporate grasses
into their borders and, indeed, I agree that it is at
first difficult to find good planting combinations or
the perfect grass for a certain location. But when you
find that perfect grass or that great combination, grasses
can add magical texture, colour and movement to the
garden. For instance, our Yellow Border is filled with
lots of gorgeous, bright colour but it is the Miscanthus
sinensis topping off at around 7 feet right in the
centre of the border which is the dynamic focal point
that first draws your eye to the border. On closer examination
of the bed you'll see another favourite grass, Stipa
tenuissima or Mexican Feather Grass, which reaches about
1.5 feet in height and which looks great with a whipcord
Hebe and lady's mantle.
Fall is a great season for grasses. The genera Miscanthus
and Pennisetum are particularly nice and offer
numerous species and cultivars that are excellent in
the garden. Here is a little tour of some very garden-worthy
grasses that hail from these two genera.
Maiden Grasses (Miscanthus)
Originating in China and Japan, this generally very
tall grass likes good soil, plenty of moisture and a
situation in full sun. It will grow in a drier soil
but not so lushly or so tall. As far as we know it is
not otherwise fussy as to soil and is generally trouble
The clumps increase in size moderately quickly and can
then be divided and replanted. This is generally best
done in the early spring but they also establish well
if broken up in June or July. It is necessary to keep
them well watered until they are fully re-established.
Avoid dividing them in the autumn.
The flowers, in the form of panicles of narrow silken
tassels, appear in the autumn, generally August to October.
The grass will attain its full flowering height within
two to three years after planting.
Miscanthus sinensis varieties are deciduous or
rather, for that implies to me that they drop their
leaves, the leaves and flowering stems die and turn
straw coloured. Many forms will continue to look good
in this state over the winter ('Gracillimus' is particularly
decorative at this stage) and can be cut down in the
The genus Miscanthus, and in particular the
species sinensis, has been the subject of much breeding
work, especially in Germany from which have arisen numerous
cultivars with strange germanic names. My favourite
name so far is Blutenwunder or Blooming Wonder. It's
also quite a good cultivar. There are now so many cultivars
that it's really quite hard to keep track.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Rotsilber' - This miscanthus
has narrow leaves with a white midrib. The flowers are
particulary nice - they are shiny and red and are likely
where the name 'Red-Silver' comes from. The flowers
emerge close to the foliage in fall which itself turns
a nice orange-red colour. 6+ feet.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' - 'Morning
Light is a stunning fine-leaved miscanthus that
definitely does look particularly good shot through
with morning light! It is the fine texture of this grass
plus the variegated midrib that allows it to catch the
light and shimmer in the breeze. Reddish flowers emerge
late and flower about 1 foot above the foliage. 'Morning
Light' has a wonderful form and shape and would be beautiful
in almost every garden! 4-5 feet.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' - This is
an old time favorite Maiden Grass is also sporting narrow
slender foliage but with excellent copper-coloured flowers
which cover the big clump in September and change colour
to silver for the winter months. Fall foliage color
is a dramatic reddish orange and is very impressive.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Zebra' - This dwarf
mutation was found on a clump of Miscanthus sinensis.
M. 'Little Zebra' makes a tidy compact mound of green
foliage with prominent horizontal yellow banding that
holds well through the summer. In late summer, the attractive
plumes emerge wine-purple...a very good addition to
smaller gardens. 4 feet
The Fountain Grasses (Pennisetum)
The most well-known pennisetum is without a doubt purple
fountain grass -- the gorgeous burgundy-foliaged and
darkly-plumed annual grass that is sure to disappoint
everyone who first discovers it when they find out that
it will not last the winter. However, this fountain
grass has numerous perennial cousins that are great
in the garden.
The name of the genus is inspired by the soft inflorescences.
In Latin penna and seta taken together means feather-bristle.
This lovely grass is a favourite, distinguished by arching,
feathery bottlebrush flowers spilling over a cascading
mound of foliage.
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln' - This is
one of the most popular cultivars with an upright, dome-shaped
mound that plays host to the plump, slightly curved
and creamy green flower heads that arch at least a foot
aloft. 1-3 feet
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Moudry' - Black Fountain
Grass - This distinct fountain grass has dark brown
to black bottlebrush inflorescences. 2 feet
Pennisetum 'Little Bunny' - This is a dwarf
fountain grass with cute little white bottlebrushes
like a bunny tail. Good for small gardens.
Pennisetum 'Karley Rose' - 'Karley Rose' is
an exciting newer cultivar with pink inflorscences that
look particularly smashing once your clump has bulked
up or when planted in larger groups.
There are also other options for this time of year
including sedges and other grasses. The sedges Carex
flagellifera, C. buchanii, C. caryophyllea
'The Beatles' and C. 'Frosty Curls' all provide
excellent fountain like forms on plants from six inches
to 1.5 feet in height. Mexican feather grass (Stipa
tenuissima) at 1-1.5 feet is gorgeous swaying in
the wind. Pampas grasses (Cortaderia selloana)
such as 'Ivory Feathers' and the dwarf 'Pumila' are
dramatic and architectural. No matter your garden situation
there are excellent grasses that would look stunning
in your fall garden, particularly with companion plants
such as sedums, asters, and rudbeckias.
Back to the