Friday 5: Five Great Garden Grasses

I’m trying out a new feature…. I’m calling it the Friday 5.  The concept is simple — it is five of anything, featured on friday.   If you want to share 5 of something – it can be plants for a purpose, products, ideas, gardens, places, events — anything really — drop me an email I would be happy to hear your idea and maybe have you make a guest post.  I’m going to kick this off with one of my favorite things — grasses.  

miscanthus sinensis gracillimus

I am grass obsessed, it is really hard for me to design a garden without them. I find them perfect for so many uses and I can easily rattle off a good one for just about any situation.  So narrowing down 5 favorites is a little bit of a trick but here goes.

top 5 grasses for the garden

1) Pennisetum alopecuroides (any variety) – Happy and neat little clumps of grassiness serve the same use (to me) as a small to medium boxwood ball — only they are not evergreen through the year.   These plants are tidy flow of everything I love about grasses – Soft touchable plumes for the seed- heads and graceful full flowing foliage that browns beautifully in the winter.

2) Miscanthus giganteus – I can’t grow kitchsy Pampas Grass where I live (it’s too cold).  But if I could I would.  I would take it as a challenge to incorporate such a distinctively retro (it’s so 70’s/ 80’s to me) plant  into a modern sophisticated landscape.  But since Pampas grass is only really happy into zone 7/8 I must resort to the Miscanthus giganteus.  This can be taller than pampas, and to me is a bit more of a cross between corn stalks and bamboo but with grassy qualities.  It is commonly grown as a bio fuel, but I find that it’s qualities of vigor, ease of growth and general giant-ness pretty useful.  I’ve been using it to anchor things like barns and fence endings in the landscape.  You can do the same with a house but be careful in dry areas as it is very flammable once it dries and dies back in the winter.  It borders on small tree sized and is quite distinctive but I use it as I would a large ornamental shrub.

3) Miscanthus ‘Graziella’  – While I extol the ‘Graziella’ the reality I really love most miscanthus (except ‘zebrinus’ whose stripes, oddly, are not appealing to me).  They range from ‘stricta’ – which is straight upright to the more gracefully shaped gracimillus which is like a pretty tapered vase for your garden.   They are all about human height and are great for the mid to back of a planting group and provide excellent upright accents, hedging and screening.  Super versatile!

4) Carex ‘Comans Bronze’ – My rebellious side loves a plant that perplexes people.   Carex ‘Comans Bronze’  does that.  It’s color challenges the notion of what is ‘living’ in the garden and many people think it is dead.  But it isn’t and when mixed with other dramatic foliage it is a really surprising star for a container garden or the front of a bed.

5) Briza media – It is called Quaking Grass because the little oat-like pendants vibrate on thin stems in the slightest breeze.  It is beautiful meadows and wild gardens and also great for xeriscape settings.  I love it with similarly airy plants like cosmos, verbena, and Coreopsis.

Want to share a Friday 5? email me.  -R

images: Pennisetum alopecuroidesmiscanthus sinensis gracillimus with chinese lanterns – Miscanthus garcimillusMiscanthus giganteus, Briza media, and Carex ‘Comans Bronze’ from Rustica


r-greayer_55a-short-253x253Rochelle Greayer is a writer, landscape designer, farmers market manageress, former physicist rocket scientist & founder and editor of PITH +VIGOR. Author of Cultivating Garden Style : Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality (her first solo book) she also writes for Apartment Therapy and hosts garden related and floral workshops in her barn in Harvard, MA.  Want to know more?
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Friday 5, Plants 4 Comments

4 Responses to Friday 5: Five Great Garden Grasses

  1. I love these grasses! Especially the Carex, and I’m growing very fond of the Briza. I wondered if the picture #5 is actually Chasmanthium, though, based on the flower heads and wide leaves.

  2. this was super helppful. I love the look of grasses but didnt really know how to use them. we recently bought a home on a neglected acre. altho I can picture it as fantastic, we dont have the finances for that. I am learning to think “big” and I can see these would be really great to help give it character. do they spread by seed? we have enough local weeds doing that!

  3. I would suggest Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) as a contender for top garden grass. It’s hardy to zone 5, and so gorgous when topped with its pink plumes and back lit by the sun. and dought tolerant also…

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