Tag Archives: northern sea oats

The August Garden

As we hit the midpoint of August and slog through the dog days of summer, I realize that the plants in my garden can be broken down into three different categories:


Still going strong

Ready to take center stage

I guess these same categories exist throughout all of the gardening “seasons”, but it seems to be at an extreme right now.

And the garden, shocker, reflects life itself. Allow me to pontificate.

With the heat and humidity at what feels like an all time high (I’ll still take it over winter) I some times find myself caving and giving in to the joys of air conditioning. Likewise, so many plants have succumbed to the conditions and have thrown in the towel. No more fighting for that last new bloom or trying to keep up the facade of clean looking foliage. Uncle.

At the same time, there are those plants in my garden that say “f you” to these conditions and keep kicking ass. Not too unlike a certain gardener I know who can’t get enough of the stinging sweat in his eyes, the burning in the calves and easily runs through three t-shirts a day. A gardener who accepts the chuckles from his neighbors and keeps pulling weeds like it was hot yoga.

And then there are those plants who sense the cooler weather is coming and are ramping up for a big time display. There are subtle signs from some and not so subtle signs from others. You can feel their excitement, their turn to take the lead in the play. Fall is their time and they f’n know it. Hopefully my kids feel that same type of energy and excitement as they soon head off to high school and 5th grade. Because all kids feel that way,right?


No plants better represent the concept of fading than the coneflower. Phenomenal in peak bloom but in my humble opinion, still killer as the pink and yellow and white washes out, turns black and eventually becomes all cone.

coneflower spent


white coneflower


astilbe coneflower spent


Almost all of the Bee Balm blooms are in full fade mode yet still have a presence. That is if you take them in from a distance and ignore the slow takeover of powdery mildew.

bee balm and joe pye


Fading Agastache still pulls in the bees and who wants to get in the way of that?

spent agastache



The dwarf Sneezeweed (‘Mariachi’ series) are still blooming strong and the deer have no interest.

red dwarf sneezeweed


orange dwarf sneezeweed

Providing a nice contrast in form and color with the emerging ornamental grasses.

planter bed


If it takes surrounding hydrangea by grasses and other deer despising plants, so be it. It has worked and this hydrangea continues to thrive even with the extreme heat of the past few weeks.



Veronica ‘Royal Candles’, one of the few plants I cut back religiously, always provides multiple rebloom periods. These were cut back only two weeks ago.

veronica prune


veronica sedum bee balm


Of course it isn’t all about the flowers and one of my favorite foliage plants right now is Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’. It brightens up one of the few shaded areas in my garden and holds up all spring/summer.



I have tried for years to find a blue evergreen that would be ignored by the deer and say “no problem” to my clay soil that can sometimes be a bit waterlogged. Some how, Juniper ‘Wichita Blue’ has been the one to take the crown and three years in I am beyond thrilled. Upright, untouched by the deer and very little winter damage has made it a winner.

juniper wichita



The first signs of bloom on the Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ appeared this week, which is always a reminder that September is fast approaching.

sedum pink


Boltonia blooms aplenty are here with plenty more to come. Of course once all blooms are present it will lean over and not be as fun to look at but I’ll be sure to never show you that photo.



Eupatorium ‘Wayside’ or Hardy Ageratum (but not really an Ageratum) finally survived the winter for me after two previous attempts. It seems to have reseeded more than it actually survived but who can complain. I love the late season color. A fun one to photograph in fall.

eup wayside


BONUS – Ornamental Grasses

I kind of like ornamental grasses in case you are new here. You’ve been warned.

Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ in full bloom as of this week.



penn and joe pye


First signs of blooms on Panicum ‘Northwind’.

panicum and joe pye


Same goes for Miscanthus ‘purpurascens’ or Flame Grass.

panicum miscanthus blooms


Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ and their airy blooms.

panicum rots


I “attempted” to rid my garden of all Northern Sea Oats and while there is still a ways to go, I’ve made major progress. Having said that, I can’t deny these NSO that have grown right through an Itea shrub look kind of awesome. Oh well.

sea oats

QOTD: Do you like this time of year in your garden? Why or why not?


Top ten ornamental grasses

My garden is dominated by ornamental grasses. It started out of necessity as they could handle the poor draining clay soil, all day sun, harsh wintry conditions and were completely ignored by the deer. But is has since evolved into me simply loving the hell out of them as witnessed by my numerous posts on the topic. They are the backbone of my garden.

A friend recently asked me “Which grasses should I plant this spring?” and I told him I’ll do you one better, I’ll dedicate an entire post to my personal favorites. A handy little guide for those who are just entering the OG world or are looking to add a few to their existing collection. My recommendations are solely based on grasses that have resided in my own garden as I’ve had the time to watch them mature and adapt over the years. There are definitely others I’ve seen in other gardens that I would recommend as well, but until I have a personal experience with them, I cannot comment.

I’ve dedicated posts to many of these individual grasses, so simply click on the name of the grass to read in greater detail. I’ve also included a few quick tidbits below about each grass.

Here are my top ten ornamental grasses (in no particular order):


Panicum ‘Northwind’Top ten ornamental grasses

  • Grass remains completely upright all year long.
  • Reached full size (5′-6′) within three years after planting a tiny plug.
  • Underrated yellow fall color.





Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’Top ten ornamental grasses

  • First grass I ever planted.
  • My favorite fall “red”of all the Panicums
  • I’ve divided this grass numerous times with ease.



Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’Top ten ornamental grasses

  • The biggest head turner in Fall with its foliage color of red/green/orange.
  • The silver blooms are a nice contrast.
  • Looks fantastic with fall perennials (Dwarf sneezeweed in the photo)


Sorghastrum ‘Sioux Blue’indian panicum sage

  • This towering native grass (middle of pic) reaches 7 feet when in bloom.
  • Took 2-3 years to establish, but now upright and stays that way through winter.
  • Individual blooms are interesting when viewed up close.


Pennisetum ‘Desert Plains’desert pennisetum

  • Only two years in with this one and it has already established itself well.
  • Great late summer/fall foliage color.
  • Tons of blooms starting in summer and they still look good into the winter.


Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’grass

  • Reliable performer year after year. 9 years in for me.
  • Doesn’t hold up as well in winter as the other grasses.
  • A bit weedy like most Miscanthus.


Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’og5

  • Yes, you can find them everywhere, but there is a reason for that. Care free and upright and buff blooms all summer and into fall.
  • I like to squeeze one in between perennials as a great contrast in texture and color.
  • I divide all the time with ease and nothing but success.


Schizachyrium (Little Bluestem) ‘Blue Heaven’k12

  • Great blue color in spring and then shades of pink and red in late summer.
  • Has handled early morning shade without issue.
  • Two years in with this one and I’m in love with it. Holds up all season including in winter.




Molinia ‘Skyracer’molinia

  • A slow to establish cool season grass but worth the wait. This one is all about the blooms as they get 4′ to 5′ tall and look killer at the back of a border.
  • Does not hold up in winter as the blooms break off.
  • Just planted ‘Cordoba’ for the first time which is allegedly even better than ‘Skyracer’.


Andropogon ‘Red October’andro

  • Another newcomer for me as we’re three years in. About 3′ to 4′ in height but should reach 6′ to 7′.
  • The foliage color is off the charts already. Red hues even in spring and then dark red in fall.
  • Seems slower to establish but it will be worth the wait. Only a few blooms to date.


And a few bonus “non-recommendations”:

Calamagrostis ‘El Dorado’ 030

  • The picture to the right is this cool season grass at its peak. Short lived though as it becomes nondescript the rest of the year.
  • Nowhere near as solid as ‘Karl Foerster’





Panicum ‘Heavy Metal’107

  • Maybe TBD is a better description. Nothing bad, just not as exciting as other switch grasses to date.
  • I haven’t seen much of a blue hue so far, just a drab green.



Northern Sea Oatssea oats fall

  • Just read this and you’ll understand why I gave up on it.



Good riddance Northern Sea Oats

Just short of four years ago, I raved about a plant that I had only recently discovered at that time.

I implore you to please ignore that post as I am here today to take everything back I had gleefully written on that balmy July afternoon in 2010.

I can now state with 100% confidence that I despise and will never entertain the idea of planting a Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats) again in my life. In fact, in terms of worst garden decisions I’ve ever made, planting a mass of NSO in a moist and open location ranks only behind my asinine decision to plant mint in a raised bed that had zero means of containing said thug.

While the grass has its appeal with the oh so pretty little oats.      

It reseeds like a mutha f’er in every possible nook and cranny and they are impossible to pull out cleanly.


In the Fall of 2012, I attempted to control the reseeding by cutting the grasses down early and removing the “oats”.    


That failed miserably and did not make a dent in my quest to control the seedlings from taking over. They were everywhere that spring. I was SOL with the NSO and it made me an angry SOB, PDQ.


As this spring approached I looked back on some of my old photos to see if I could justify keeping these around any longer. As you can see in the pic below, they aren’t exactly “appealing to the eye” in front of the three Panicum ‘Northwind’. Yes, you can question my design sense with that combo, but you really can’t question the fact that these ain’t all that good looking.


While I am kind of the king of over promising and under delivering (for proof, click here and here) I vowed to finally take corrective action this spring. And I am happy to report that is exactly what this world class gardener recently accomplished.

I dug out and disposed of the mass of Northern Sea Oats and a trillion seedlings, planted two new Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’ in their wake, placed cardboard down over a large section of the “affected” area and mulched heavily.

It is truly only a start, but “Operation NSO Removal” is underway.

More to come.

The end of the line for a plant

I would love to discuss a perennial that performed well this year or share photos of an ornamental grass that is putting on a show right now.

But that is not happening today.

Today I am notifying you of a plant that I will be eradicating. Yeah you heard me, eradicating. It’s not enough to transplant it elsewhere or chuck it on the compost heap. We are in full eradication mode. Operation Eradication if you will.

Chasmanthium latifolium, commonly referred to as Northern Sea Oats or NSO if you are on a character limit, has pushed me to the brink and I’m ready to end our relationship.

I  loved this plant /grass at first and even sang its praises in a post from a few years back.

Then after witnessing its love of reseeding, I attempted to control them by cutting them down in the fall.

Well, that didn’t curb NSO’s desire to spread its wings so I am done with it. NSO should stand for:

No one

Sure, the “oats” are fantastic from summer into fall:

And I’ve managed to hide the mess these have been making since early spring, but with the leaves now falling off of the shrubs and perennials it has become even more evident that the party needs to end.

Case in point:  

Reseeding in front of the more mature NSO’s:

Hiding within Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet’:

Getting way too comfortable under Astilbe:

Trying to battle Amsonia:

I’m not anti “pull every individual weed by hand”, but it is impossible to grab these and get the entire root system. A trowel is required for each and every one. Not happening.

So within the next week, I plan on pulling all of these out, lighting them on fire, stomping on them with my shit-kicking boots and then lighting them on fire again. I realize I’ll be doing more of the same in the spring, but at least I’ll know I am on my way to a permanent cure.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Yes, more ornamental grass love

If you do not like ornamental grasses, it is OK to leave now. 
Go on … get outta here.
Are they gone? …. good riddance.
Let’s proceed, shall we?
It’s sort of like Christmas Eve out in the garden right now with the OG blooms about ready to show themselves: 
Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ 
Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’ 
Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’
Want to know how I know that my lust for ornamental grasses is off the charts? I can capture three blooming grasses in one photo:
Misacanthus ‘Gracillimus’, Calamagrostis ‘Eldorado’ and Miscanthuis ‘Purpurascens’ 

This is the second year for my Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ and so far, color me impressed:

The seed heads on my two different Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats) have matured nicely:

Northern Sea Oats

Northern Sea Oats ‘River Mist’

You can count on an overwhelming amount of coverage on all things ornamental grasses over the next few weeks so brace yourself.


Ornamental grasses take the spotlight

It is that time of year.

The time when the ornamental grasses take a giant leap forward, shake their ample booty and become THE focus in the garden.

Well, they do in my garden at least.

Here is just a sampling of these emerging superstars:

Panicum (Switch Grass) ‘Northwind’ when the blooms first appeared:


And now after said blooms transformed into a pinkish hue (love the blue/green blades as well):

Next, we have Panicum (Switch Grass) ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ (yes, I have memorized that spelling):

Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’ behind the same “Rots”:

Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ not yet showing signs of bloom but still stunning in its own way:

Misanthus purpurascens (Flame Grass) with blooms just popping out in front of the giant Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’:

Every night, I stare at these Calamagrostis (Feather Reed Grass) ‘Karl Foerster’ blooms from my deck as they are backlit by the sun. Good times:

And finally, Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats) are at their peak, as we speak:

More grass love to come in a future post as they continue to transform with the arrival of autumn.


My favorite new plant of 2012 – Northern Sea Oats ‘River Mist’

Back in February, I wrote about the fun I had browsing the Klehm’s Song Sparrow catalog, and as expected, made a few purchases soon after.
To date, one of those purchases stands out from all the others. Her name is Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats to her friends) ‘River Mist’:     

While it is still early in the plant’s development, I can say it is already an absolute winner. The seedheads just recently emerged and they are fantastic:  

And even better than the seedheads, is the beautiful variegated foliage on this ornamental grass:

Like the common Northern Sea Oats, ‘River Mist’ is shade tolerant and I have mine in a partial shade location (morning sun only). It just lights up in the afternoon shade and works well with others:

A few additional bits of info on this ornamental grass:

  • Ultimate size is around 3′ x 3′ (mine is at about 2′ since it was planted in March)
  • Survives in zones 3-8
  • Deer resistant 
  • Can handle wet soil (woo hoo) and even survive some standing water 
  • The seedheads will mature to a purple/bronze color later in the summer/fall     

To truly evaluate a plant, it takes years to watch its development so ‘River Mist’ will be watched closely the next few years. My biggest concern is the reseeding over the winter and into next spring. That could be an issue.

For now, it is an absolute stunner.

Let’s take a walk my friend

Knowing we are due for some serious rainfall the next two days, I woke my arse up early this morning and set foot outside into the foggy, damp and spider web infested yard. There may not be many photo opps in the foreseeable future.  
Some times a blog post idea pops into my head and after some serious reflection and self-editing (maybe one day I’ll tell you the ideas I passed on) I’ll take the photos to support the post. This morning I wanted to grab the camera and let the photos tell the story. 
As I write this post in a quiet house and drink my all worldly black coffee (big shout out to Grounds for Change) I already know I’ll look back on this morning in the winter and wish I could have it back. As much as I bitch and moan some times, there is nothing like a simple walk out in the garden in the early morning. Good f’n times.
This vignette caught my eye this morning – it contains fall color, persistent flowers and a kick butt ornamental grass. I like it:          

As OCD as I can be, I really do dig it when there is a surprise that defies all logic – like this purple coneflower popping up in the middle of Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’:

I never expected Tradescantia (Spiderwort) ‘Sweet Kate’ to still be blooming into late September but she is still blooming her ass off … and I thank her deeply:

Call me crazy, but I have always loved fading coneflowers, not sure what that says about me and don’t really want to know:

How have the birds left these alone? I wanted to chow down on them, spider webs and all:

More spider art:

Speaking of spiders, it is absolute panic time every September/October as the spiders make their way into our house. I have become immune to the sudden gasps and screams when the family sees another spider of gargantuan proportions. Without batting an eye, I grab a paper towel, scoop up the arachnid and put them back outside. The family then looks at me with awe and respect as they know I am The Protector.

One last one, the oats on Northern Sea Oats look awesome but I am so determined to limit their re-seeding this year. They caught me off guard and got me bad and I may have spent the better part of a month pulling the seedlings. Not this time:        

Have a great weekend!


Subtle changes in the garden

With two active young children, full time jobs and various trips to and fro while trying to enjoy the summer, we seem to spend most of our time getting into and out of our cars. Even though it always feels like we are in a rush to go somewhere, I make it a point to always sneak a peek at all of the plants in my driveway garden bed. 
This bed is planted with mostly ornamental grasses, native perennials and a few deciduous shrubs. Right now, it is my favorite part of my landscape (and this is of course, subject to change) as it has been the most challenging to put together, yet by far the most rewarding. This bed stays wet longer than any other since the rain is routed off of the driveway and pools here. Also, this is the area where the deer feel most comfortable setting up shop. There are no windows on this side of the house so I can’t scan for them and scare them away like a wild man.
What I enjoy most as I get into my car each morning and out of each evening, is noticing the subtle changes that are passing right before my eyes. I feel like I have superpower-like vision and can spot the most minute of changes. A rough day at work can become a distant memory just by noticing that the viburnum berries are changing from green to purple. 
Here is what I’ve observed of late in my driveway garden bed and while it may not jump out and grab you, it works fine for me:
Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’ is putting on major growth and it shines when back lit by the sun, but also stands out when the sun goes down with it’s light foliage. It is now starting to emerge from behind the taller perennials (Boltonia in the photo below):   

And behind the Viburnum ‘Emerald Lustre’:

A very young Panicum (Switch Grass) ‘Northwind’ is only about two feet tall, but a few blooms just snuck out this week:

The foliage on Itea (Virginia Sweetspire) ‘Henry’s Garnet’ has begun it’s autumn transformation as you can see on the underside of the leaves:

And even more so on the bottom of the shrub:

The “oats” on Chasmanthium Latifolium (Northern Sea Oats) are maturing to their brownish/tan shade:

The aforementioned Boltonia is just showing the first signs of bloom:

And last but not least, the Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ blooms are a sea of red and look fantastic en masse:

I am already looking forward to the next trip to my car!