Smokin’ Grass!

I’ve developed a late in life love for grasses. Where I once imagined a mixed border cramscaped with a vast array of flowering perennials, this fall I found myself purging and simplifying so I could focus more on texture, form and movement and less on flowers.  In my opinion, grasses are the epitome of all of those things and with every one I’ve added to my garden over the years, I’m inspired to add more! Is it crazy that I’m reinventing my garden after only 4 years?


Leveled view of  ‘Triangle Garden’

My front triangle garden sits on an unobstructed incline that gets some serious east wind.  While it can sound quite scary at times, with its full sun location it does make for some pretty magical moments for anything tall and billowy in my garden!


Gardening on a sunny and windy incline!

Here are a just a few of my favorites….

This Andropogon ‘Red October’ (?) has been in my garden from the beginning. I  accidentally purged a group of plant tags so I’m giving its identification a best guess here. As you can see here, it’s suffering a bit from my original cramscaping plan but it should enjoy some extra space come this spring! The Eryngium ‘Jade Frost’ stayed ( I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea to transplant eryngiums) and the andropogon provides nice support as it reaches its peak height.


Andropogon ‘Red October’

Last year I added several Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’ to my garden all with varying degrees of success.  The two in my front Triangle garden were the most successful. I’m hard pressed to decide if my favorite feature is their gracefulness, delicate seed heads or colorful transformation throughout the season!


Schyizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’



I don’t see many molinias out and about and I can’t figure out why.  If you’re looking for a tidy, tall, sturdy grass that will not get the “flopsies,” this is the grass for you!

My favorite is Molinia caerulea ‘Strahleguelle’.


Molinia caerulea ‘Strahlequelle’



In the background below is Pennisetum macrourum (African Feather Grass). This was a Fall 2018 addition from our blogger’s semi-annual plant swap. With it’s focal placement, I’m hoping it does as well for me as it has for my fellow bloggers!


For blue color you cannot beat Agropyron magellanicum. This has been in my garden for years thanks to Xera Plants.


Agropyron magellanicum


I wish this Penstemon ‘Enor’ would be more prolific! I love the purple against the blue backdrop!


My Agropyron magellanicum does seed around but tends to plant itself among friends so separating can be challenging. I chose to leave this one in the libertia rather than try to move it.

Another senior member of my garden is this Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’. While I had an idea of it’s size, I had no idea that it would become a beast in only one season! This fall I moved it a third time.  Its new home is now in the back of the left garden where it can be a fabulous back drop rather than a blocking screen! I’m hoping it survived the transplant.


Miscanthus ‘Morning Light”

With it’s size, it can’t help but photo bomb almost every picture I take in this part of the garden. I think it makes a nice accompaniment!



Classic photo bomb with this Kniphofia ‘Shining Scepter’, Edgewarthia chrysanthia and unknown acanthus.

Every gardener plants at least one plant that haunts them. In spring of 2015 I planted mine – Stipa tenuissama or Mexican Feather grass. Despite the warnings of Matthew The Lents Farmer , I just HAD to add this to my garden. I’ve been pulling it out of everywhere ever since! Its memory will haunt me forever living amid the spiky fronds of the adjacent windmill palm.


2015 Triangle Garden with the original Stipa tenuissama

In the fall of 2017, when my grass craze was really getting going, I decided to make more bad choices. With its close downhill proximity, my hell strip was a perfect landing place for reseeding. I thought I would go with the flow and not just keep the seedlings, but transplant one so I could have three! While I loved the result, inevitably they had to go as more offspring quickly started popping up!


Stipa tenuissima

Next season the tip of the hell strip with feature more molinias and Anemanthole lessoniana or Pheasant Tail Grass. After espying and coveting Anemanthole lessoniana in a fellow blogger’s garden, I’ve added several throughout the front garden. From its long, slender and wispy “tails” to its four season color interest, there is so much to love about this grass! I particularly enjoy it’s companionship with the caryopteris in early fall.


Anemanthole lessoniana with Caryopteris ‘Dark Knight and Caryopteris ‘Longwood’


Fabulous “pheasant tails

How many Stipa gigantea is too many? I’m hoping three is the magic number because I’m running out of room! ! This grass is the centerpiece of my hell strip and it’s nothing short of majestic. Reaching almost 8 feet tall at times, this grass mesmerizes me with it’s shimmering seed heeds dancing in the sun for much of the year!


Stipa gigantea stealing the show!

Each year I’ve added another to the hell strip.


Stipa gigantea

Speaking of fabulous seed heads, just past the Stipa Gigantea are five Stipa barbata. They are victims on my previous cramscaping ideas which doesn’t allow their long, alien finger-like seed heads to enjoy the space they need. This spring they will be relocated up the street where they can get space and the attention they deserve.


Stipa barbata


You know you and your friends are obsessed gardeners when they show up at the fanciest cocktail bar in town with a giant chunk of grass for you from their garden. My friend and fellow blogger, Heather, Just a girl with a hammer divided this gorgeous Miscanthus malepartus last year and did just that! Now I have a perfect transitioning plant from the hell strip to the shade garden!


Miscanthus malepartus

I think it makes a beautiful backdrop to some colorful companions!


As I started gardening and learning about plants, I began to worry that people would think I was weird because I would constantly ask them about their plants when I visited their garden. I would file things away in my brain or put notes in my phone so I wouldn’t forget if there was something of particular interest. Well, I’m wondering when Heather is going to realize how many of my grass ideas I’ve stolen from her garden!

Pennisetum spatheolatum was the first of several grass ideas I stole from Heather. You can’t beat it for tall, graceful movement in the garden!


Pennisetum spatheolatum


I repositioned two of them last spring and I paid the price with minimal seed heads from both. I’m hoping they will have forgiven me by this summer! 

Perhaps the best lesson I’ve learned experimenting with grasses is that they breathe new life into my fading garden in the fall and reinvent the landscape as many of my perennials begin to fade. I’ve developed a new appreciation for the fall color of my peonies!





Last fall I edited quite a bit of my garden to more prominently feature grasses and added several alliums, multiple Kniphofia thomsonii var. snowdenii , Asclepius fascicularus and eutrochium to sway among them throughout the season.

As a new season approaches, I’m eager to see how the changes play out and what new and wonderful grasses I’ll discover!


8 thoughts on “Smokin’ Grass!

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and think that your borders look simply wonderful, exactly the sort of effect I would like to have. I only have a miscanthus in my garden and it’s getting very big which will be a problem when the time comes to divide it. I much prefer your more ‘polite’ grasses. I will look out for some of them, for sure.


  2. Alan—fantastic! You have a great eye. You seem to be doing all the right things in moving and rethinking. This flexible, flowy, variable grasses take a while to learn the spacing they want—and the spacing changes per your climate, and time. I’m envious of your energy! Thanks for all the notes. I just added a ton to my own notes, and wish list. If you are influenced by Heather, I think she was influenced by the great Scott Weber of


  3. That was one of the many points of contention with my colleague down south and me. When we were roommates in the dorms three decades ago, we pinned up pictures of our parents’ home gardens. His pictures were quite enviable EXCEPT for the big pampas grass at one of his parents’ rental houses in Los Angeles. He thought it was spectacular . . . and it was. however, I only knew the smaller wild pampas grass (Cortaderia jubata) that was such an nasty weed in the coastal regions of San Mateo County. Although I have since learned an appreciation of the showier pampas grass in landscape situations, I live in a region where pampas grass is on our ‘do not plant’ list. I would not plant it anywhere where it could escape into the wild. Even the ‘sterile’ types can sometimes toss a few seed. (The sterile ones bloom with only female flowers, so can not pollinate each other. However, on rare occasion, they can be pollinated by the feral Cortaderia jubata, if they happen to be in the area. The hybrids of the two can naturalize almost as aggressively as the feral sorts do, and they get more efficient with naturalizing with each generation.)


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