Monday, December 6, 2010
The Glory of Autumn Grasses
Ahhh, grasses, would any of us be without them? Coming from the land of the tall grass prairie, I've always had an affinity for them. Growing up and playing hide and seek in forests of Switchgrass (panicum) and Big Bluestem (Andropogon) on our acreage in northeast NE, they've always been part of my vernacular.I've always been drawn to large plants, and they definitely qualify. From mere sprouts in spring to glimmery clusters of bloom far above my head in autumn, they are giants (especially when you are sub-4 feet tall ;-)
There are so many reasons to love grasses, their year-round interest, varying and interesting forms and growth habits, their adaptability, and of course, the fact that they come in so many colors, patterns and sizes. Of course, most of us look forward to the blooms as well, and although I love Portland's rainy winters, most grasses need dry weather to really show off their blooms. In wetter weather, blooms that would look frothy and light clump up. Well, this past week for us was pretty dry and the grasses were looking glorious, and in a time when the rest of the garden looks pretty forlorn, it's most welcome!
Above, is Miscanthus 'Malepartus' (at least I think it is...it's the closest I can find to any Miscanthus matching it. I love this Miscanthus for it's wider-than-typical leaves, which have the usual white strip down the midrib. In summer, it shoots flowering stems forth, a good foot or two above the gracefully arching foliage. The flowers are tinged with red for a good month or so before fading to a beige color. One dry days in the fall, the feathery flowers can be seen...and when backlit by the sun, they glow. I love how the flowers twist and turn as they dry.
For some reason, I always think of Pennisetum as the "cute" grasses. I guess it's the fac that I absolutely CANNOT walk by them without reaching out and brushing my hands against them, then again, I am a fairly tactile gardener. There is just something about those fuzzy little flowers that practically beg to be petted, it's like someone attached dozens of kittens to a grass. I have 5 different types of Pennisetum in my garden (wow, didn't realize that until just now!), 'Hameln' (pictured), 'Tall Tails', 'Moudry', 'Karley Rose' and 'Pennisetum spatheolatum'. I love them all, and they are all so very different.
Schizachyrium 'The Blues'
I've included this grass in a lot of pictures in recent posts, which probably proves how much I love it. It forms a fairly short mound of grass for most of the season, a lovely cool blue-ish green color. Come fall, however, it transforms and slowly adds purple, red, orange and pink to the mix. I planted it last year, but it failed to flower, this year (in a better location now, having realized it just got too much shade previously) all 3 of my plants bloomed. While first blooming, the blooms aren't terribly noticeable...but now, after having a few dry days, they are beautiful! They are unlike any other grass I grow, both in form and flower. I love the feathery little seedheads that appear along the stems, they wave and flutter in the garden, giving them wonderful texture.
Schizachyrium 'The Blues' (Detail)
Here is a detail of the feathery little seedheads.
Of course, I couldn't do this post without mentioning the lovely Pink Muhly Grass. I totally admit I hunted for these after seeing them in Nan Ondra's wondrous book Fallscaping a few years ago (which also caused me to look for Amsonia hubrichtii). I planted them late last fall and wasn't even sure if they would make it through the winter, much less do much the following year. They've proven to be wonderfully hardy, however. They are practically evergreen here in Portland, and once summer rolled around they took off. They aren't very bushy or full yet, but I'm hoping they will fill out in coming seasons. I was amazed a few months ago when I suddenly started seeing the fluffy flowering heads appearing. For some reason, this grass reallyl seems magical...seeing such a plain mound of grass (they honestly aren't much to look at for most of the year) suddenly erupt with sprays of lovely pink flowers! The frothy misty pink effect is intoxicating!
I leave with another shot of my Miscanthus, showing also the bleached stems.