Category: Ornamental grass

Tour of the Garden – 8/24/17

The Grasses

What else would I lead with at this time of year? Duh. I’m well aware that my last post featured Flame Grass, but I couldn’t resist featuring it yet again. Those silvery blooms blowing in the wind bring the garden to life. Once that green foliage color turns every imaginable shade of orange, it will be sensory overload.

 

Can you say focal point? Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is killer right now. While I love it massed for maximum effect, it can hold its own on its own. While the flowers or inflorescence are a show-stopper, give me the sturdy blue stems any day of the week. Even on a Monday.

 

Ho-hum, another Panicum ‘Northwind’ pic.

 

The red is really shining through on Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’. These grasses are incredibly fool-proof and have been for over a decade now.

 

Multiple grasses are anchoring this garden scene. I’ll say it again, as ubiquitous as it may be, the upright and tan blooms of Karl Foerster grass add so much to the late summer garden. Massed or dotted throughout the garden, it doesn’t matter. It works and I won’t stop using it any time soon.

 

Just a different Instagram filter for a different vibe.

 

Fine, you win

I cut it down to the ground in early spring. I cut it back again in June. I chopped off a ton of the branches after they were infested with Japanese beetles.

It doesn’t matter. This Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ (Dappled Willow) just keeps growing and growing. If I’m being honest, I’m bored with it but I can’t imagine trying to remove it.

Oh well.

 

Not looking good

All of my Achillea (Yarrow) ‘Moonwalker’ look like this or worse. The funny thing is they thrived earlier in the summer like never before.

 

I told myself I wouldn’t dabble in red-blooming Lobelias any longer. They have never escaped the jaws of the deer or the rabbits. Just when all 5 were starting to look great while blooming together, this happened. I even sprayed the bastards with Deer Off the night before.

I’m done.

 

You know I love me some Sneezeweed ‘Mariachi Series’. But for the first time since I’ve planted them, they are toppling over. It may have been due to a recent deluge of rain so I’ll do my best to remain patient.

 

Still chasing

Yes, still awkwardly running after each and every Monarch butterfly.

 

Autumn has arrived

This is the Viburnum that I ceremoniously moved to a new location in the garden a few weeks back. I’m sure the red leaves are due to the stress I put on it and not the fact that fall has come a few weeks to early. Either way, that color is solid and I have big hopes for the future as it matures.

But even better is the sign of all of those berries. This is a Viburnum dentatum ‘All That Glitters’ which requires ‘All That Glows’ as a pollinator. I have both planted close to each other and I’m assuming this is the result of that pollination. They should turn purple in color in the coming weeks.

 

All of my Itea (Virginia Sweetspire) turn red prematurely in August. This is the dwarf cultivar ‘Little Henry’ which I’m allowing to sucker like mad in a very wet part of the garden.

 

While it may be slight, you can start to see the color transformation in the foliage of the Amsonia.

Amsonia tabernaemontana

Amsonia hubrichtii

 

The Red Twig Dogwood just displayed its red stems for the first time this week. And for those curious, the leaf damage was from Japanese beetles a few weeks back.

 

Ready to shine

The Eupatorium ‘Wayside’ (Hardy Ageratum) are starting to bloom.

But have they ever taken over.

So many of you warned me of this and it is coming to fruition. It may be OK this year, but I see a problem with the years to come. I’ll need to jump on this soon to prevent a total takeover.

 

Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ is rounding into form and they are all inundated with bees.

 

Helenium (Sneezweed) has popped up all over my garden where I least expected it and I’m good with that. That is until it falls over when the many flowers emerge at once.

 

They may not “shine” but Chelone lyonii (Turtlehead) ‘Hot Lips’ adds a nice dash of color in late summer.

 

My continuing use of annuals

I’ve added Heliotrope …

… and Persian Shield

… and I must admit I might be coming around even more on using annuals. As many of you know, I’ve rarely used annuals in the garden outside of containers but finally embraced them this year. I’m getting the “fill-in” functionality and long bursts of color. While I prefer to grow over time with my plants, I may be finally crossing the dark side.

 

I love you, but don’t know where to go with you

I am like totally in love with Aralia ‘Sun King’.

Look at that foliage.

Problem is I have no room for it in my garden. All of my shaded areas are accounted for and even if I made room, I worry about the deer destroying it.

So for now, I’m digging it in a container, shaded on my front porch, and will do my best to overwinter it in the container.

 

 

Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame Grass)

My kids are pulling together all of their school supplies.

They’re also panicking with the current status of their summer reading assignments.

There are exhibition NFL games playing on TV.

Grocery stores are peddling all of their overrated pumpkin products.

Horrific TV shows are being pimped by the big networks.

Fall is coming and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I’m the biggest fan of summer there is and I’m in no rush to wish it away, but the reality is once September 1st arrives and the kids are hopping on and off of the bus each day, autumn has arrived. Summer gets ripped off by almost a month and I hate it.

End of rant.

From a “glass hall full perspective”, my garden may look its best in the fall. And that is all because of my large collection of ornamental grasses. Most OG’s reach their peak in September and October as their mix of stunning foliage color and uniquely colored blooms announce their presence with a fluorish.

If you ask me which grass in my garden stands out more than any other, I’d choose Miscanthus Purpurascens or Flame Grass.

Miscanthus purpurascens

The photo above doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story. From August through November it puts on one mother of a show.

Here it is current day, with its bright green foliage just starting to show hints of yellow and orange (ignore the blooms in the pic, those are from Panicum ‘Heavy Metal’ in the background).

Miscanthus purpurascens

 

I have a bunch of these grasses all over my garden. Most in full sun, but a few in partial shade and they’ve all been thriving for years now. In the photo below (middle of the bed and to the right), you can see how that bright green plays well in a mixed bed with other grasses, shrubs and perennials.

 

The blooms start to emerge anywhere from mid-August to early September here in zone 6B New Jersey. They start off red-tinged and quickly transform to a bright white.

Miscanthus purpurascens

At that same time, you can see how the foliage color really transforms into a delicious mix of green/orange/yellow.

I like to play off of the Miscanthus Purpurascens blooms with the blooms of other grasses like Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ below.

 

Or with Panicum ‘Heavy Metal’.

 

When this grass is backlit by the sun, it’s magical.

Miscanthus purpurascens

 

I’ve also come to appreciate how the flowers provide a very cool backdrop to the spent blooms of the Bee Balm or Coneflowers.

 

Did I mention the Miscanthus Purpurascens foliage is kind of killer?

Miscanthus purpurascens

 

Even as the late summer/fall progresses, the foliage remains stellar, eventually changing to all orange/tan.

Miscanthus purpurascens

 

One foggy and mystical-like morning last October, I took the following three photos. This alone made it worth adding Miscanthus Purpurascens to my garden.

 

 

I know. I won’t even try to be humble here. Those pics are amazing and I’m amazing for taking them.

Even as we move into the dark days of November, Flame Grass still makes a big impact in the garden with the blooms persevering and providing a fantastic contrast to all of the “brown” that has taken over.

Miscanthus purpurascens

The specifics:

SIZE: 4-5′ x 3-4′

ZONE: 4-9

EXPOSURE: Full sun to partial shade

BLOOM: August to November

SOIL: Consistent moisture required

GRASS TYPE: Warm season

NATIVE: Japan

MAINTENANCE: Cut to ground in late winter or early spring as with most ornamental grasses.

DRAWBACKS:

  1. Miscanthus sinensis, in general, is identified as invasive in many states. I’ve had no issues with rampant self-seeding to date.
  2. This Miscanthus is clump forming so there may be a need to keep it in bounds through division every few years.

 

 

 

The ornamental grasses have arrived

Ornamental grasses are typically referenced as making an impact in mid to late summer and even more so in the fall. There is no denying their influence during these seasons and that is when my garden truly shines (self pat on back).

But I also see them as a great foil to all of the perennials and shrubs that are kicking ass in the late spring and summer. The perfect back drop to all of that color. The perfect contrast in texture.

They may not have reached their peak color or form, but this OG obsessive says they still play a big part in the spring/summer garden.

What do you think?

Here is where they stand in my garden today. Even their subtle emergence makes me happy. I literally can’t take a photo in the garden without at least one photo bombing the pic.         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The winter garden is the best, or it isn’t.

How shall I deliver this post today?

We can go one of three ways:

A. Be authentic and real

B. Lie my ass off

C. Rely on sarcasm to hedge between the two

Authentic and real is generally the right thing to do. But today is the exception.

Lying one’s ass off, I’ve been told, is not nice. Even if the lie is to protect someone or something or to make you the reader feel good out of the endless goodness that resides in my heart, it will ultimately destroy or erode my credibility. We can’t have that.

When all is said and done, sarcasm is the right answer. As it usually is.

So I choose “C“.


There is nothing better than the feeling of nose hairs freezing and intertwining within 2 seconds of setting foot outside.

It reminds me that the joy of feeling painfully cold is back.

It reminds me of the fun challenge of trying to not face plant when your insane dog pulls you viciously down the icy front stairs at 5:48 A.M.

Winter is flat awesome.

There is nothing quite like the sight of frozen and dead and brown.

 

It is not uncommon to hear me joyfully humming “Winter Wonderland” as the earth crunches underneath my feet.

 

Even as my ears form icicles and my tears freeze and shatter before hitting the ground, I stand and ponder the circle of life that is my garden. Life, like wow.

 

Falling down repeatedly on the frozen earth is so worth it, just to see the frozen individual grass strands.

 

That frozen what-was-once-a-Joe-Pye-Weed-bloom is just as beautiful as when the monarch butterflies graced its presence months back. It’s like fine china gifted from the gods of the winter garden and I am so blessed to have been provided with this rare gift.

 

You know what is underrated in terms of fun? When you can’t feel your fingers while taking a photo. The challenge of pushing that little button is so cool.

 

See that owl house in the background? It is going to be a hoot trying to get back there without stepping in 10 inch deep puddles of frigid water.

 

The excitement generated by hoping the frozen tree branches don’t break off and deform the shape of the tree is palpable.

 

Why I don’t cut down my grasses for winter reason #1,453. Something to look at from inside the warm house. Wait, that wasn’t sarcastic. Sorry.

God I love the magic of the winter garden.

Much better.

 

You know those people who love winter and the snow and the cold? They’re great aren’t they?

 

OK so I added this photo solely for the purpose of showing off our new columns on the front porch and the fact that we disposed of our old rusted railings which I’ve had to cut out of photos since the beginning of this blog.

A new beginning.

 

I so wanted to help this grass get back to its original shape but I got distracted from all of the other fun winter events.

 

How exciting, you haven’t seen this photo a hundred times over.

 

Heuchera on ice. Riveting.

 

I can’t even …

Little bluestem

There is an ornamental grass that is threatening to steal my heart away from Panicum ‘Northwind’. I know, scandalous. But the heart wants what the heart wants. And right now the heart is being tugged towards Little bluestem. Or if we’re being fancy, Schizachyrium scoparium.

I’ve even gone so far as to share my love for her on Instagram:

Swoon.

I realize I’m late to the party with Little bluestem. And I’m fully aware it was one of the dominant grasses in the Tallgrass Prairie in the central U.S of yesteryear and that only 4% or so remains to this day.

But better late than never, right?

I guess I never fully realized just how easily it fits into the home garden. I’m up to three right now and will probably divide one of those in spring.

Some Little bluestem info:

  • Plant hardiness zone 3-9
  • Mature size is 4′ x 2′
  • Blooms starting in August and lasts into November here in zone 6B.
  • Requires full sun for best growth and becomes a bit floppy in partial shade.
  • Soil should range from dry to medium but mine have been ok to date in somewhat wet soil.
  • Drought tolerant and thrives in disturbed soils. Perfect for use on banks and slopes for erosion control.
  • An underrated feature, as is the case with so many ornamental grasses, is the food and shelter it provides to wildlife like birds and butterflies.

Some other info, happily accompanied by photos:

Little bluestem is a warm season grass and typically looks like this for me by early June:

little bluestem

And by mid-summer, the pastel colors of Little bluestem are killer, especially when properly back lit by the late day sun:

little bluestem

As mentioned previously, this native grass starts blooming in August and is covered in silvery white seedheads. Beautiful:

little bluestem

By late summer, as the flowers fade, the grass takes on a coppery appearance which looks right at home in the fall garden. Yum:

little bluestem

 

little bluestem

By mid-November or so, as with most ornamental grasses, Little bluestem transforms into a buff color where it remains that way until it is cut down in spring (Which you should do by the way. Please don’t cut your grasses down in fall or winter. Thanks.)

little bluestem

Are you growing this in your garden? What are your thoughts?

In and around the November garden

What have I been up to of late?

Glad you asked.


I finally got around to installing my Screech Owl house. Fine, I didn’t physically install it so much as I was an active gofer for my handy brother-in-law who fortunately lives two houses away.

You all know me too well.

owl-house

The owl house was installed during the day on Saturday at a temperature close to 70 degrees and got its first test that night when we had gusting winds and almost 2 inches of snow.

Yay, November.


Who can resist a good late season plant sale? How about this monster bargain:

carex-lowes50 cents x 3 is so worth the risk of getting these through the winter. They are all Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’.

I consider it research for my ornamental grasses book.

A tax write-off.

Wish me luck.


Some times you just have a feeling.

Some times your gut tells you to just do it.

Some times you need it.

As silly as that all sounds, it all added up to me attempting to grow tulips successfully for the first time ever (not including in containers).

tulips

There is a deeper meaning at play here and one I’ll never talk about.

I need this to work and I’m confident that it will.

Tulips don’t dig the wet winter soil and that has been my problem for decades.

Until 2017 that is.

bulbs

We now wait until spring where my blind faith will hopefully pay huge dividends.


Beyond all that, I’ve been doing my best to soak in what is left in terms of color out in the garden.

spirea-fall

Spirea nipponica ‘Snowmound’

heuchara-fall

Heuchera

rhamnus-fall

Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’

mountain-mint-fall-2

Pycnanthemum incanum (Hoary mountain mint)


And you know, ornamental grasses.

grasses-fall-2

 

grasses-fall

 

grasses-fall-3

 

miscanthus-fall

 

 

 

 

Time to divide

Look real close at the photo below.

gracillimus-bad

A colossal embarrassment.

This ornamental grass – Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ has begged for division for like three years now. And I’ve done nothing but ignore the request.

Why?

  1. It is a monster and the effort required to attack it has been intimidating.
  2. The effort requires time and time is in short supply these days.
  3. It is easily hidden from view so the pressure to do something about it has been lacking.
  4. Blog fodder – content for another post which you are enjoying right now.

But I am better than this.

It is 80% dead at this point and that is unacceptable for a so-called obsessive and neurotic gardener. Especially one who does nothing but wax poetic about the wonders of the ornamental grass.

So I’m calling myself out and asking you to do the same. Call me out on it from time to time. A nudge here and a nudge there.

Inexcusable John.

Cut back on the photos and maybe do some work John.

You must lack the physical strength to pull it off John.   

Task #1 for next spring has already been determined.

 

Frost

The sight of frost this morning was jarring.

frozen-garden

 

The autumn sun so low, feeling like I could swat it if I had a running start.

frost-garden

 

While I could see winter sneakily approaching through my back woods, autumn is all like “I ain’t going anywhere yet.”

frost-garden-8

frost-garden-2

frost-garden-7

 

I wish morning frost was available year round. It beautifully outlines the leaves and stems.

frost-garden-4

northern-sea-oats-frozen

 

This is only one reason why we don’t cut down the perennials until spring.

frozen-seedhead

frozen-seedhead-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grasses take the lead role

A few thoughts for today:

  • Doesn’t this picture make you a little bit sad?

blue-fortune-agastache

I cut back this one Agastache to the ground a few weeks back because it was dried to a crisp and did it ever put on nice new growth in no time. And then just this week this one bloom appeared. It feels so bittersweet since the real cold weather is just around the corner.

Valiant effort little guy.

  • Is there a better name than Flame Grass for this one?

flame-grass

True story: An unknown civilian called me over to their car in front of my home the other day. I assumed they were going to ask for directions but then realized, no one does that any more with Google and GPS right? I prepared for the worst and even prepared for an evil clown to emerge only to have them ask, “What is that bush over there? It is stunning.”

Sir, that is Miscanthus purpurascens or Flame Grass for you common folk.

  • A close 2nd to the “best looking ornamental grass right now” is Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium).

little-blustem

Tremendous coloration, especially when back lit by the late afternoon sun.

  • This combination of Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’) and an Anemone I have no memory of ever planting has been fun. I couldn’t recreate this effect if I tried.

blonde-anemone

It is better to be lucky than good.

  • The Obedient plant (Physostegia ‘Vivid’) has easily quadrupled in size in the past two years and is a unique bloom color this time of year.

amsonia-obedient

  • And finally, I would be super appreciative if you could read my latest post over at Medium.com: How losing my wallet made my life easier. This may sound crazy, but the content and style of this article is one that I’m strongly considering for a book. If you do check it out, I would love for you to click on the little heart at the bottom of the story. That greatly helps me with getting others to read it as well. And as always, let me know what you think, good or bad. I need the feedback, desperately.
  • I lied, one more. I hopefully fixed the issue with the subscription pop-up but need your confirmation that it is in fact working again. Let me know in the comments section if you have a minute.

Thank you and have a hell of a day.

 

 

Bragging through photographs

An unusual thing happened today.

I had some free time on my hands while at home. When that happens, instinct typically kicks in and I head directly to the garage where I put on my gloves and grab some combination of my trowel, spade and a large container for weeds. I then head out into the yard without any plans and just start weeding or planting or moving plants. All of this is done with reckless abandon until I realize I have run out of time or I pass out.

But today was different.

No trip to the garage.

No desire to do anything in the garden whatsoever.

I feel done for the year.

This feels unusual and I’m holding out hope that it is only temporary. Is it possible this is the new normal? Am I wearing down sooner in my old age? I’ll have to let it play out a few weeks longer before jumping to any conclusions.

I claim the right to change my mind in the near future without any ridicule from all of you. But at least let me have this today. 

While hard laboring John is on temporary hiatus, shutterbug John is not. Fall is arguably the best season for bringing out the best in my garden so I am outside taking pictures on regular rotation. I can’t miss a thing.

After taking a series of photos today and then reviewing them I couldn’t simply just post them here without any commentary like I did last Friday. I owe you more than that. My desire to write hasn’t dwindled a bit either so fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your point of view) I have come up with a theme for today’s pics. That theme is what I’m proud of with each shot. Proud in terms of my gardening skills not my photography skills.

Enjoy.

Layers are good. It has taken a lot of time and experimentation but I’m happy with the results on this front.

playroom-bed

 

Masses. Always good for the greatest impact. Especially in a wide open garden setting like mine.

boltonia

 

Grasses make the garden literally shine in September and October.

flame-grass

 

“Foundation plantings” are boring and too neat. Glad I stayed away.

front-bed-2

 

Protecting my precious tomatoes from the deer using ornamental grasses as fencing has been fun and rewarding.

tomatoes-and-grasses

 

Plants like Sneezeweed, which tend to topple easily, are best planted among, you guessed it, ornamental grasses. The grasses provide support and their see-through quality allows for a cool display.

rots-grass-sneezeweed

 

There is still nothing better than Panicum ‘Northwind’. She still holds the title as queen of the grasses.

northwind-itea

QOTD: Are you still performing hard labor in your garden?