Miscanthus ‘Cosmopolitan’ - in flower.

Miscanthus ‘Cosmopolitan’ - in flower.

Duchess of Dirt: Autumn’s fall grasses provide variety of choices



More than 10,000 different species of them worldwide. Only orchids surpass grasses in number to claim largest family in the plant kingdom. But even coming in second, there is a huge selection of grasses from which to choose.Over the years, John and I have collected a few varieties and cultivars. And over the years we have re-evaluated our choices. Some we lost. They were not hardy enough for our zone. (Hardy in Comox but definitely not in Black Creek.)

A few have been turfed because they were too seedy. New babies popping up everywhere – even on the other side of the yard from the mother plant. (Some of the Carex spp. fall into this category.)

But many of our acquisitions have proven to be phenomenal. One grass genus that we are especially fond of: Miscanthus. Especially in the garden at this very time of year – autumn.

Many of the species in this genus are what are termed “late grasses”: grasses that really do not come into their full potential until after the spring craziness and early summer blush have calmed down. Now as the garden is winding down for the year, the Miscanthus spp. are really strutting their stuff.

I have mentioned our silver maidengrass, Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cosmopolitan’, before in previous columns. And will likely mention it again in future.

It is that beautiful at eight feet (2.4 m), or more, in height. A dense screen of bright green liberally slashed with streaks of white running the length of its leaf blades.

It is slow to emerge in spring, almost waiting for the heat of summer to throw up new shoots, but oh my! And for the very first time in its roughly ten year history in our garden, it has finally thrown out inflorescences – the grass family’s version of flowers.

Most of the late season miscanthus species develop their inflorescences sometime towards the end of August through into September. But ‘Cosmopolitan’ is such a large variety, it seems to take more time to reach its annual maturity level. At least in our garden, and it likely does not help that ours is planted in a more shaded area.

There is something to be said for global warming. This summer, with the long stretch of sunny days and high temperatures, seemed to be exactly what ‘Cosmopolitan’ has been waiting for.

It is certainly living up to its Award of Garden Merit (AGM), awarded by the Royal Horticultural Society in 2001, and its Great Plant Pick (GPP) designation for the Pacific Northwest awarded in 2010.

Grass inflorescences aside, there is much colour to be celebrated in the garden right now. Speaking for myself, I often find the real scope and depth to the colours in autumn a tad surprising. Let’s face it. Most of us spend the inclement days of early spring on forays to the nurseries, eagerly looking over the new arrivals arriving almost daily.

Our green thumbs are itching to get into the soil and the gorgeous spring arrivals are the perfect excuse.

But how many of us are looking at the new spring plant in our hand and thinking ahead to autumn? Not many, and I am just as guilty. Usually. Heck, I typically have only just packed the Christmas decorations away. I do not even want to think of autumn until I have basked in the warmth of spring and heat of a whole summer.

And so, for me, autumn in my garden seems to burst onto the scene in a riot of almost unexpected colours.

Rich burgundy, bright red, brilliant yellow, burnished gold. Viburnums, hydrangeas, cotinus cultivars (smoke bush), maples, fothergilla. With more than 1,500 plant species and cultivars in our garden, it is most definitely a riot of colour.

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


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