Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gardening with grasses (not lawn)

I actually started to take photos for this post in July, then life exploded and I never got around to finishing it up. Now seems like the perfect time, since many grasses are just starting to come into their best. Back when I gardened in Spokane (zone 5) I had more grasses in my garden. After relocating to Portland I moved on to other things, with the exception of Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa)which I embraced with an open wallet (every time I saw one I bought it) and Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) which I brought with me from Spokane. Over the year more grass has steadily crept into my garden like Zebra Grass, …and my beloved Black Mondo Grass. However for the longest time I hated (that’s almost not a strong enough word) Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima? Stipa tenuissima?), couldn’t stand it! But something clicked earlier this summer and I now love it. Even to the point of including some in my front garden, where I hope it will settle in and spread itself around (these pictures are not of the feather grass in my garden...mine doesn't look this good!). For those of you concerned about this grass being invasive so far I don't believe it is considered a thug in our climate. I’ve always liked this fence, and of course the Yucca’s were a hit from the very beginning… But I’m finally enjoying their use of Mexican Feather Grass too, to soften up the hard lines and add movement. If you find yourself wanting to include more grasses in your garden you might enjoy Designing with Grasses by Neil Lucas, from Timber Press. I recently checked it out from the library and really enjoyed it. Need more grass inspiration? For some drool worthy grass photos visit Rhone Street Gardens, the blog of fellow Portlander (and grass lover) Scott Weber. Scott recently visited Wind Dancer, a nursery specializing in grasses, which also has a great display garden.

In the mean time be sure to stop and enjoy the beautiful grasses all around you!


  1. I really like grasses, both the big, bold ones like Miscanthus and Molinia and also the smaller ones like that lovely black Ophiopogon. In my opinion they look great in a spiky/architectural garden.

    I have quite a few in my garden, but my favourite is Molinia caer. subsp arund. 'Skyracer'. It is a tall, well-behaved grass that looks great at the moment swaying gently in the wind. It also looks nice after the frosts have arrived because it goes a bleached blonde colour and normally stays quite upright until the wind or snow knocks the stems over.

  2. I love the look of grasses but struggle to integrate them into my packed landscape. I think they need some breathing-room to look their best. That said, the stars of my southern side are three Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster', now in their third year and magnificent!

  3. And to think that my first garden had nary a grass. Live and learn, right?

  4. In my calendar, February is the longest month.

  5. We love ornamental grasses...all of them!!

    Wyatt and Stanzie

  6. I love grasses. Great pics. And what a cool-sounding name, Wind Dancer, for an ornamental grass nursery.

  7. I have slowly been adding more grasses around here... love their independent nature!

  8. Adam D, I agree...grasses and spiky plants go together wonderfully. I forgot to mention three lovely Miscanthus that used to be in my front garden. They were gorgeous, until it rained in early fall and they flopped over. I grew to hate that plant and all the work it created.

    MulchMaid, "packed landscape"...I'm feeling the same. Where is there room? I fear winter will create a few bare spots.

    ricki, really?

    Les, I think there are many that would agree with you.

    Wyatt, being a dog do you find that they are wonderful places to lay?

    Pam, you must have quite a few grasses that are happy in your harsh summer conditions?

    Darla, ah! So true...they are rather independent.

  9. what are those orange flowers poking through in the first pic? i would like something like that to go inbetween the feather grass.


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