Built to Last – Part 2

– Posted in: Garden Design

In my last post about ornamental grasses with great winter structure, I mentioned several that I think still look quite good, even after our mostly rainy/icy winter. As so often happens, once I started writing about my favorite plants, I couldn’t limit myself to mentioning just a few, so here I’ll offer a couple more for your consideration. To spare you from an endless gallery of closeups of brown grasses, I’ve put together a few through-the-seasons photo series to show the plants with other companions in garden settings. And before I go on, I must thank Shirl of Shirl’s Gardenwatch for sharing her secret of making photo montages. Thanks, Shirl!

In my last post, I think I said that my top favorite grass for winter interest is ‘Dallas Blues’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum). I’d like to amend that, and say that it’s my favorite tall grass. That way, I can also have a favorite short grass: Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima). It’s not supposed to be fully hardy here in mid-Zone 6, especially in winter-soggy soil, but so far, so good. It’s not exciting from a color standpoint – basically, it’s either bright green or bleached tan – but its swirly form and “please touch me” texture earn it a favored place in my side garden, flanking a frequently used path. Below is a series showing a bed on one side of that path, featuring a mass of the Mexican feather grass with a variegated-leaf, yellow-twigged dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’), shown on July 15, November 18, and December 16 of 2007 and February 17 of 2008.

Stipa tenuissima in July 07 Nov 07 Dec 07 Feb 08

The series below is from an area I think of as the courtyard garden: the space I walk through on my many trips out to the barn and back. For much of the growing season, the area is quietly green, except for summer punctuation from some giant coneflowers (Rudbeckia maxima). As August progresses, the ‘Cassian’ fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) produces its brushy spikes, then turns bright yellow in September. By November, it’s mostly beached out, but there’s still lots of color from the pink plumes of muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), as well as the changing foliage of Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii). By now, the muhly grass is mostly broken down, and I’d cut the bluestar to the ground about a month ago. But the fountain grass still looks rather good, as does the grouping of ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus at the back. I think that’s an excellent return of multi-season interest from a very simple selection of plants.

Courtyard garden Sept 07 Nov 07 Dec 07 Feb 08

In this last grouping, there’s only one grass, but I consider it to be the star of the scene. As far as I can tell, it’s a fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), but I have no clue as to the cultivar because it arrived with no label (I guess that makes it Pennisetum “NoLa”.) This mixed planting also includes a variety of annuals, perennials, and shrubs, but it’s the form and color of the fountain grass that always catches my eye. Below is a series showing the last six months: September 20, October 19, November 18, and December 6 of 2007, and January 12 and February 17 of 2008.

Side garden with arch Sept 07 to Feb 08

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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7 comments… add one

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Katie February 23, 2008, 1:35 pm

Hi Nancy,

I love your by season pictures. I always appreciate being able to see transformation – and your garden is so beautiful! Cultivar ‘NoLa’ is an apt title. :0)

Thanks, Katie! It’s been fun putting the series together and seeing the changes I hadn’t noticed during the growing season. I have a few other “NoLa”s but far more “LoLa”s (lost labels).

Joy February 23, 2008, 2:37 pm

Those are such great pictures. You have so much space to work with, grasses are wonderful to place there. I just ran across new panicums that turn very dark and boy, I really want some please ! LOL
Panicum Virgatum “Huron Solstice” and “Prairie Fire” .. they look wonderful to off set other plants.
I can’t stop collecting grasses yet !

I’m looking forward to getting my paws on those two switch grasses as well, Joy!

Shirl February 23, 2008, 8:38 pm

Hey, Nan 🙂

Your photos look great! That is exactly the way I think montages work best by showing comparisons. It is a bit late here tonight so I will come back to read this again in the morning but I am delighted to see you experimenting with the montages 😀

I so appreciate you sharing this technique, Shirl. I’ve found that placing pictures in WordPress can be a hassle sometimes, especially trying to put two side by side. Making one image out of multiple pictures has simplified posting considerably!

Kathy February 23, 2008, 9:19 pm

How do you make those photo montages?

Shirl has posted her instuctions at her blog; see her comment below. I use Microsoft Word 2007 with Windows Vista, so I had to modify the steps somewhat. If anyone else that’s using the same setup needs help, I’ll be glad to share my method.

Shirl February 24, 2008, 7:13 am

Hey, Nan (and Kathy) as per your suggestion I have just posted instructions for the montages http://blog.shirlsgardenwatch.co.uk/2008/02/photo-montages-how-to.html . Hope everyone has fun with this 😀

Excellent! Many thanks, Shirl.

Curtis February 24, 2008, 12:25 pm

I love your photo transitions. Grasses are just great for winter interests.

Thanks, Curtis! It’s amazing how so many of the grasses *still* look good, even after the most recent round of snow and freezing rain.

Pam/Digging February 26, 2008, 1:30 am

It’s great to see the progression of your grasses through the seasons. Mexican feathergrass and Gulf muhly are two of my favorites also. Your pics of the muhly are absolutely stunning.

Thanks, Pam! I’m sure both of those grasses are much happier in your climate than mine.

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