Designing with perennials and ornamental grasses

Thank you all so much for your comments on my prior post. I truly covet all of your opinions when it comes to the topic for my next book. You all know better than I do.

Between those comments, feedback on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter and chats with my people, I realize that the next book must be all about ornamental grasses. A shock, I  know.

That is my sweet spot even if I still have loads to learn. But research and learning should be part of any under taking so I look forward to the challenge.

Now the debate comes down to what to include in this book on grasses. Is it one-stop shopping or should the focus be on design only? I’m still working that out and my door is still open looking for your feedback.

I have started to build an outline and will share that with you all in the very near future.

For today, I went back and found some of my favorite ornamental grass and perennial combos.

I know I’m already asking a lot of you, but I would love to hear which ones you like the most. If it wouldn’t be too much of a burden, would you rank your top 2 and let me know in the comments?

Also, I’d love to include photos of your grasses in the next book as well. If you have any you’d be willing to share, let me know and we can work something out. I’ve got no budget to pay, but I think I can get creative in terms of reward.

Thanks again and enjoy my OG’s.


Joe Pye Weed and Panicum ‘Northwind’

This may be my fave as it starts in August and carries all the way through October.





Joe Pye Weed and Pennisetum ‘Hameln’

Again, multi-seasonal interest extending summer through fall.





Bee Balm and Karl Foerster Grass

I could include just about any perennial in my garden with Karl Foerster but the bloom color of this Bee Balm really stands out here.



Bee Balm and Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

This one really highlights the fact that grasses are the ultimate backdrop for blooming perennials.



Baptisia and Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

This one is more understated, but for some reason I love the combo when the blooms have faded and the black seed heads emerge.




Baptisia and Sorghastrum nutans (Indian Grass)

This is from late summer when both are back lit by the afternoon sun. Some combos have a short duration but when it hits, it packs a punch.



Rudbeckia and Karl Foerster Grass

Like I said before, all perennials mix well with Karl and here is another example.




Bee Balm and Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens)

The Flame Grass on its own is stunning. But the spent flowers of the Bee Balm add a magical dimension in early mornings during the fall.



Dwarf Sneezeweed and Flame Grass

The bloom color on the Sneezeweed is represented in the foliage of the Flame Grass.




Amsonia and Panicum (Switch Grass)

The contrast is subtle throughout the spring and early summer, but really picks up in late summer and peaks in the fall.





Boltonia and Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’

I like the backdrop of the lighter colored foliage.



Ninebark ‘Diablo’ and Karl Foerster Grass

Yes, I’m cheating as this is a shrub. But I couldn’t leave it out because I love the color contrast and the texture contrast.



12 thoughts on “Designing with perennials and ornamental grasses

  1. Joan Brasier

    You had me at Joe Pye Weed and Panicum “North Wind”. Two of the favorites in my landscape.

  2. Susan

    I am so jealous of your baptisia! I have two, and every fall, I end up cutting them to the ground b/c they flop — despite being supported with double hoops. I would love to know how you get yours to stay upright. I’d love to enjoy the black seed pods. I had thought that maybe next year I can try cutting them down to the ground after bloom. Any thoughts?

  3. Pat Thompson

    In your new book why not discuss the value of place in gardening, the difference between the east coast with the Midwest in terms of grasses and perennial matches, I have recently moved out to the edge of the prairie in wisconsin where the variety and look of different plants varies significantly from the tidal basin of the Chesapeake or the shale ridges of central PA. For example I’d never seen the wild prairie dotted with firey orange butterfly weed, or the breathtaking sunflowers fields as far as the eye can see until I moved here. Would make an interesting discussion about picking plants that not only grow but flourish where you plant them.

  4. Mariann

    I particularly like the three season display of Joe Pye Weed combined with Pennisetum Hameln. The colors and textures are complementary. And the differing plant heights show off the blooms to their best advantage.

  5. Amanda

    The Amsonia/Panicum photos write this book for me! Visualizing grass and perennial combos through the seasons will be so valuable – too often, I have an idea how certain plants will age but not necessarily how they’ll appear together at different times of year. Grasses in particular are mysterious. Warm season, cool season, what does that mean in terms of how they’ll play with my other perennials? Thanks for undertaking this project. Warning: don’t be surprised if you become the “grass guy” and some of us pepper you with questions before the book is out!

  6. AnnJ

    Rudbeckia and Karl Foerster Grass – and this from someone who doesn’t much like Rudbeckia

    Bee Balm and Flame Grass – Actually ANYTHING and Flame Grass

  7. Sharon Molnar

    You’ve sold me on grasses with these pictures of the infinite combinations you can make with them. I think they’ll do well AND outcompete the undesirable varieties of grass that tried to choke out my big sunny slope bed this summer.

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