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Landscape plants provide 'pleasure' in winter

By LESLIE COX November 29, 2012 · 4:07 PM
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VARIEGATED JAPANESE SEDGE (proper name Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’) has begun showing off in the Black Creek garden tended by the Duchess and her Duke. / Photo by Leslie Cox

With so many plants gone to seed and composting down in the fall garden, one really appreciates those plants that remain stellar to provide some pleasure in the landscape.

Evergreen shrubs such as rhododendrons, laurels and Aucuba japonica 'Crotonifolia' are holding court over our garden in front and back right now.

And the grasses....

For anyone who has not discovered grasses for their landscape design, you are missing out. They really stand out in a fall garden.

Surpassed only by orchids, grasses are the next largest family in the plant kingdom at over 10,000 different species. With such a wide variety available, there is a grass for almost every zone and garden setting imaginable.

Unless you live in central Greenland or Antarctica — the only two places on Earth where no grasses will grow at all.

Over the years, John and I have collected a few grasses. One species we are fond of is Miscanthus sinensis. Fall is when this particular grass really stands out in the garden. Never in the spring display.

Being a late-season grass, it is slow to get started. In fact, John was almost rabid in his despair over the loss of his variegated Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus 'Cosmopolitan' its first winter in our garden.

He was ready to rip it out before I hogtied him. That one plant was an expensive addition to our landscape design and I was not in any hurry to add it to the compost just yet.

Sure enough, come June that year it was starting to show its stuff.

Patience is definitely not one of John's virtues. But patience is well worth investing with 'Cosmopolitan' for its ultimate eight-foot (2.4 m) or more height to show off its stunning green and white-striped leaf blades.

This grass justly deserves its Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society in 2001 and Great Plant Pick (GPP) designation for the Pacific Northwest in 2010.

One disappointment with our 'Cosmopolitan' is it never produces any flower scapes for us here in Black Creek.

Thankfully our other Miscanthus sinensus cultivars — 'Gracillimus' (GPP 2010), 'Gold Bar' (GPP 2010), 'Strictus' (AGM 2001) and 'Morning Light' (AGM 2001; GPP 2004) — all produce lovely seed heads for us at this time of year. (I have added their awards to give you an idea how stellar these particular grasses are as well.)

And not all of the miscanthus I have listed here are as late as 'Cosmopolitan' to appear on the scene in spring. Both 'Gold Bar' and 'Strictus' are quite quick to send up fresh leaf blades.

I should mention here that Miscanthus grasses should be cut back to the ground in late winter or early spring before the new blades start appearing.

Another grass that is showing off in our fall garden is Carex oshimensis 'Evergold' (variegated Japanese sedge). I absolutely love its low mound of cascading green leaf blades with their central stripe of bright buttery yellow.

And it looks right spiffy straight through fall and winter. Small wonder it received its AGM in 1993 and GPP designation in 2005.

Naturally, with over 10,000 grass species I cannot touch on very many here in this space. Nor do John and I have a big enough garden to showcase as many varieties as we would like.

But I am thankful for the few that we have for the pleasure they provide at this dreary time of year...if only for the antics of the birds as they bob and weave on the slender seed head stalks in an attempt to garner some breakfast.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Friday in the Record.

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