Ornamental grasses ‘really stand out’ in gardens

I am particularly fond of the sedges with the vase-like form of golden-hued Carex elata 'Aurea' topping my fave list...

DUCHESS OF DIRT Leslie Cox is 'particularly fond of the sedges with the vase-like form of golden-hued Carex elata Aurea.

For anyone who has not discovered grasses for their landscape design … you are missing out.

The ornamental varieties really stand out in a garden.

One of the largest plant families, surpassed only by orchids, there is a grass for almost every temperature zone and garden setting imaginable.

I am particularly fond of the sedges with the vase-like form of golden-hued Carex elata ‘Aurea’ topping my fave list. This carex, also known as Bowles’ golden sedge, is early on the scene in spring…as are all of the species in this genus. (Not to be confused with Bowles’ golden grass which is Milium effusum ‘Aureum’…a nice small, but rather seedy grass.)

Full sun or partial shade makes no difference to this gold beauty. Tolerant of the intensity from mid-day sun, there has been no scorching on its leaf blades in our garden.

As for care, this is one of the sedges which needs to be cut back to 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) above the ground in early spring. This allows the new leaf blades free rein to sprout their stuff when they are ready.

Another favourite sedge is Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’. It is a ground-hugging variety with creamy yellow blades edged in green exhibiting that lovely vase-like spilling.

Unlike other sedges, ‘Evergold’ does prefer a more shady location. Give it too much sun and the leaves will have scorch marks. And do not cut this one back in the spring. It does not need to be pruned.

You can if you must but it will take quite a while to recover its naturally spilling form. John pruned ours into a rounded mound this year and it is still looking somewhat like a ball with spike hair…but it is getting better.

For ease of care, I also love these other sedges …. Carex buchanii, Carex flagelifera, Carex testacea, Carex dipsacea … and their cultivars. A quick finger comb, or a gentle rake, through their mop to remove the dead blades has them spiffed up and ready for spring.

Do not be put off by their common name: dead sedge. They are anything but. Splashes of early spring sun on their coppery mounds add a delightful sparkle to the awakening landscape.

The grass varieties mentioned up to now are wonderful for the early spring shows. Heading into summer and the potential for spectacular fall displays in the grass sector we have the maiden grass family: Miscanthus.

There are seven different cultivars in our garden so it is hard to pick a favourite. But for pure breath-taking splendour I would have to opt for Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cosmopolitan.’

With its clumping, upright habit of variegated pure white and deep green leaf blades reaching to an impressive eight foot (2.4 m) height, this grass is nothing short of spectacular.

But then, the upright and solid clumping of  Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ makes this cultivar not to be ignored either for what it can add to your landscape. A very admirable screen in certain locations, if not so tall at a mere six feet (1.8 m).

And the pinkish-red of the mature seed heads on ‘Gracillimus’ certainly catch the rays of a setting autumn sun as well as the eye of an opportunistic finch.

Both ‘Cosmospolitan’ and ‘Gracillimus’ are late to show in the spring so do not panic if you do not see much new growth until the end of May, beginning of June.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ is fast on the spring scene though, for a maiden grass. It roars out of the ground with medium green leaves striped horizontally with golden yellow bars, helping to put some lively movement into the awakening perennial scene. Who does not appreciate green after the grey of winter?

All of the grasses mentioned are drought-tolerant once established and will tolerate even the toughest of growing conditions. Something to consider for your landscape.

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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