Designing a garden includes creating an interesting palette of plant material ranging from trees to shrubs to groundcover. We like to say that we are very good at mixing heights, textures and bloom seasons so that there is always something exciting going on. One of the textures that are a staple in gardens designed and built by Details Landscape Art, a premier landscape contractor, is the ornamental grass.
When a garden includes too many showy ‘feature’ plants, then nothing stands out. A well designed plant combination should consist of taller background plantings that serve as a foil for some colorful shrubs, maybe some flowering shrubs or plants with color in the foliage, lower spreading groundcovers, perhaps some spiky leaved phormiums and softer, more graceful grasses. Ornamental grasses are especially useful in and around dry creek beds for a natural look. They are effective mixed in among other plantings and boulders, or planted in masses.
Ornamental grasses are not to be confused with grass, such as in a lawn (see separate blog about lawns), which is a short growing plant with a shallow root system, and needs regular mowing. The ornamental grass is an actual individual plant.
Deciduous grasses we like to use are:
Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blond Ambition’ (Blue Grama Grass) – 6-12″ high with chartreuse flag like flowers held 12-16″ above the foliage. Flowers from spring well into winter dormancy.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’- a larger variegated grass – about 5 ft. x 5 ft. This grass tends to continue to clump out at the base, becoming a huge wide plant over time. We recommend dividing the base after winter pruning.
Pennisetum orientale – (Fountain grass) – about 2 ft. x 2 ½ ft.- cut down to the ground in winter, this is a very soft graceful grass, with feather like plumes that wave in the gentle breezes. Beautiful dry creek bed grass.
Carex – (Sedge) – two varieties are ‘testacea’ and ‘buchananii’- both have bronze foliage. The subtle color is useful in contrast to other greens in the garden, and very natural looking in dry creek beds.
Helichtitrichon – (Blue Oat Grass) – 2-3 ft. high and wide. A short 12-18 inch tall evergreen grass with bluish foliage. It needs an annual ‘combing’ to remove older dead leaves that linger on the plant. They do not fall off on their own.
Imperata cylindrical ‘Rubra’ (Japanese Blood Grass) – 1-2 ft. tall with striking red foliage. It spreads underground and resurfaces nearby and quickly become a ground cover type grass. It definitely does not stay a single clump.
Our favorite evergreen grass is Lomandra ‘Breeze’. It is a rich green, low growing grass (3 ft. x 3 ft.) that tolerates both sun and shade, and has modest water requirements.
Another evergreen grasslike plant is juncos, commonly known as rushes. There are hundreds of varieties available. nThey generally favor planting near ponds, bogs, and low, moist areas.
The photo below shows a larger planting of pennisetum orientale in front of a grouping of French lavender.
Details Landscape Art, a Sonoma County premier landscape contractor, uses many types of ornamental grasses for texture in our garden installations.