Jennifer Causey Spires of Liatris spicata and Liatris pycnostachya add vertical accents to the meadow.
Fast-growing, low-maintenance ornamental grasses, many of which change color in the fall, provide seasonal hues and visual interest to gardens of all shapes, sizes, and aesthetics. “There is a large variety of colors and textures in ornamental grasses that provide continued interest, even into the winter months,” says Bob Grover of Pacific Landscape Management, president of the National Association of Landscape Professionals. “Because of the wide range of ornamental grasses, they are the perfect companion to almost any garden design. Going for a Japanese aesthetic? Hakonechloa is the perfect choice. Or in a rock garden, you might prefer blue fescue.” Grover also recommends ornamental grasses for sensory gardens, as “the movement of the grass produces a calming sound and has a soothing visual quality as the blades dance in the breeze.”
A local nursery can help you find the perennial grass that works best for your climate; the variety of grasses available means there’s one for every yard. “Well-drained soil is best, though grasses are tolerant of most soil conditions,” says Edward Furner of Mariani Landscape in Evanston, Illinois. “Perennial grasses are drought tolerant and sustainable, they provide great accents in the fall and winter, and, from a design perspective, they provide texture in the landscape.”
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Furner’s favorite perennial grasses include carex flacca, also called blue sedge, a shade-tolerant grass that spreads to fill in woodland gardens; panicum northwind, a coarsely-textured, medium-height grass with showy pink summer flowers and “amazing fall color;” and autumn moor grass, which is pictured here, a low, non-spreading grass, which grows green in season and yellow in the fall, is ideal for planting in large bunches. “Currently, there continues to be a focus on native plants and modern, clean design styles,” says Furner, “so ornamental grasses are a great fit for this aesthetic.”
Grover recommends hardy, drought-tolerant grasses that include morning light—”The medium green blades with cream colored, almost white margins reflect light, and because of its height and arching nature move gracefully in the wind,” he says—and purple silver grass. “Purple silver grass has some of the most impressive inflorescence, or plumes, of all the perennial grasses,” says Grover. “The plumes are delicate and shine a pinkish-silver color in the sunlight. This grass makes the perfect companion for plants with strong orange and red fall color.”
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Low-lying grasses, like Liriope muscari, also called lillyturf, and pennisetum, or fountain grass, pictured here, work best as border or mass plantings. “In the fall, the Liriope will bloom with a striking blue to purple flower cluster on a five-inch stem,” says Grover. “The pennisetum varieties provide a low, compact growth habit with strong showy plumes. With a variety of colors from red to medium green foliage, pennisetum make a great addition to any garden.”