In case you haven’t heard, grass is for so much more than lawns. “Ornamental” grasses, as they’re known, are varieties grown for their vigor, color, form and seed heads, and can serve a variety of purposes in the landscape. Grasses offer fine texture, interesting blooms, softness, movement and more. What’s even better is that many grasses are adapted to high sunlight and low-water conditions, making them excellent for drought tolerant gardens and requiring very little maintenance. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.
1. Fescue – Especially blue fescue, pictured here. These plants are nice, compact and globose, with a beautiful blue hue. Evergreen, they require minimal water and do not produce messy seed heads. Varieties include Maire’s, Atlas, red and green fescues.
2. Carex – Members of the sedge family are short (under a foot), with wiry upright, curling or drooping blades. They come in a variety of colors including the bright orange-red pictured (Carex testacea), brown, green, chartreuse and variegated. Many are tolerant of sun as well as shade and suitable to a wide range of conditions.
3. Calamagrostis – Our favorites from this family are the cultivars ‘Overdam’ and ‘Karl Foerster’, the latter being more compact and pictured above. These grasses produce long-lasting, showy upright blooms that lend lots of vertical height to a space. Line many up against a wall to screen an unsightly foundation, use as a natural fence or add height to a mixed bed.
4. Pennisetum – These fantastic grasses have showy seed heads that range from long, soft and drooping (‘Karlee Rose’) to round and fuzzy (‘Bunny Tails’). They also come in various sizes, from 12″ to over 4′ tall, and colors ranging from the deep purple of Pennisetum rubrum (pictured) to the variegated blades of the feisty ‘Fireworks’.
5. Sesleria – Called “Moor Grass”, this traditional grass forms small, neat clumps with upright blades in either green (Sesleria autumnalis) or blue (Sesleria caerulea) with small, cotton-swab-esque tufts of white standing like contrasting antennae against their foliage. Perfect for a cottage, meadow or fairy garden, they lead the eye when spread out from one another, or create the feel of a lush meadow when clumped close together.
6. Muhlenbergia – Called “muhly” or “deer grass”, these grasses can be large (three to four feet tall) and unruly. They have very fine foliage with huge, cloud-like tufts of blooms like cotton candy that appear in shades of white, pink, purple or orange. Ultra-resiliant to heat and drought, use these large plants en masse as a foundation or backdrop for other plantings, or use them sparingly as accent pieces to soften a mixed bed.
7. Cordyline – This decorative grass is in the medium size range, and is a great option for those who want color or a tropical look without much upkeep. Cordyline comes in bright colors and has long, broad, straplike leaves often striped in various shades – check out ‘Electric Pink’ (pictured), ‘Torbay Dazzler’ and ‘Cherry Sensation.’ No blooms to speak of.
8. Phormium – Like cordyline, New Zealand flax is a broad-leaved grass with inconsequential blooms but astounding foliage. It is tough as nails and comes in dwarf to very large varieties, with blades ranging from elegantly arching to staunchly upright. The color varieties here are even more endless than in cordyline – some cultivars seem to contain all colors in theme, like ‘Rainbow Queen.’
See something you like? Have a few more questions about the perfect ornamental grass for your yard? Get in touch or stop by North Park Nursery today and ask one of our qualified horticulturalists for help!