The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making

Blooming Blades

2 Comments

I’ve added quite a few grasses to my garden of three years – though I’ve removed much of the lawn. I can’t imagine a garden without at least a couple varieties of (no-mow) grass. Grass is structure, filler and foliage. More than that – those blades bloom! And this time of year, they are the stars of the Northern garden. In the Bird & Butterfly Garden, the first area I planted, Maiden Grass Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ and Switch Grass Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’ have matured into sweeping drifts. The Maiden Grass bloomed last year for the first time, is blooming its little blades off right now, and the Switch Grass will turn a beautiful gold color come winter.

Maiden Grass blooms.
Switch Grass blooms heavy with rain.

Grass is also movement and sound. It is meditational to watch and hear grass rustle on the waves of the wind. Out front, Feather Reed Grass Calamagrostis ‘Karl Forester’ does just that. It is tall enough now to watch when sitting on the front porch and its sound does remind me of waves along a shoreline.

Blue Fescue Festuca glauca weaves texture into my front garden, catching light and leaves. I will be planting more tufts of this wonderful blue shade along with some native grasses when I finally focus my attention on a real front garden design – hopefully in the Summer of 2012.

I moved clumps of this variegated grass from the back deck area this past spring to the back of our garage / workshop before our porch redo. I love that it is extremely low maintenance – grows in sun or shade – and that we no longer have to “edge” along the garage foundation. I acquired it from a plant exchange and do not know the exact name of it. It is now one big drift. I love how it sets off the changing color of the leaves. Its new growth is more green and gradually becomes more variegated over time. It also has nice blooms.

I acquired another mystery grass when I purchased a clump of Switch Grass Panicum ‘Ruby Ribbons’ for the Nice Driveway. You can see a couple of the ruby blades of the Switch Grass just beginning to turn, but those blooms do not belong to Ruby Ribbons! I really love the mystery blooms, but I should probably try to separate the two.

Also along the drive, native Indian Grass Sorghastrum Sioux Blue is nearing its mature height of 5′-6′. Truly a screen of green, er blue, er yellow …

Tall they can grow, but grasses can make a wonderful see through veil. I love peering through the blooms of this native Big Bluestem Andropogon gerardii, but I’m not so sure I’ll be able to next year. This was just planted in spring and will eventually mature to 7′ tall.

Also added this spring, native mound-forming Northern Dropseed Sporobolus heterolepis. Native grasses are even more than blooming blades – they are shelter and seed. Many birds will eat the seeds of Switch, Fescue, Bluestem and Dropseed Grasses throughout the winter. Indian Grass provides nesting material for birds. Game birds, Finches, Sparrows, and even small mammals will eat its seeds. It is the host plant for the Pepper-and-Salt Skipper Butterfly. Bluestem is the host plant for the Delaware and Dusted Skipper Butterflies. Sparrows, Sedge Wrens and the Western Meadowlark eat its seeds. Hopefully I will be able to add some of these Skipper Butterflies to my list of insect sightings in the garden.


Sources: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Butterflies and Moths of North America

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Author: Kathy Sturr

Author of the Violet Fern blog, artist, and master gardener.

2 thoughts on “Blooming Blades

  1. I love my grasses especially the Feather Reed and I am happy to learn about a few more natives to have in the garden. I will be checking out the Dropseed.

  2. You have a lot of grasses! I am always tempted by them, especially in the fall. They have such a sweeping grace that can not be duplicated. I don't have any grasses in my garden – yet. But every year I am tempted even more! Enjoyed seeing your grasses, and learning a bit more about them.

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