Ornamental Grasses & Grass-like Plants
September 15, 2021 | EDUCATION
Late summer and early fall are a time of the year when I think that grasses and their visual cousins look their best. If maintained well, these plants can look great all year, but there’s simply a glow about them when the heat of summer starts to give way to cooler autumn temperatures. Some grasses – particularly our native grasses like switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) – exhibit good fall color. The blades of grass turn shades of red, purple, burgundy and mahogany, often in contrast to bright white or creamy seed heads. The grass-like Liriope at the Lotus Pond is in full bloom right now with a terrific pop of bluish-purple flowers atop dark green leaf blades. The yellow-leaved cultivar of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) screams a delicious chartreuse nearby.
Grasses bring movement and elegance to the garden. I’ve often likened it to adding music to a dramatic scene in a movie. The scene can be riveting on its own, but adding music can elicit a visceral response full of emotion and memory. Think about the shower scene in “Psycho”. I think that’s what grasses and grass-like plants can do for a landscape. I’ve actually seen gardens designed with musicians to emulate a particular piece of music. The Toronto Music Garden, designed by Julie Moir Messervy in conjunction with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, is a good example.
In the Southern and Southwestern US, Liriope and mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) are used as edging plants. Colloquially called ‘monkey grass’ and ‘little monkey grass’, they often form an edge around huge planting beds in the landscape.
However you choose to use grasses and their relatives in the landscape, consider adding these low maintenance beauties to your plant palette.
– Dr. Mark Miller, Education Director