With color, texture, susurration, grasses appeal to all senses

    Like most gardeners, I have a list of plants I’ll probably never grow again. Most of these are a case of garden-related PTSD. They are plants that have done me wrong, and in some cases, continue to torment me.
    When we bought our house, the patio was surrounded by tall ornamental grasses, many of which eventually flopped over, laying everywhere. When I couldn’t stand them anymore, I cut them down with a brush mower and discovered that most of Ozaukee County’s mouse population was congregating there. So many mice were fleeing the wrath of the mower that you would have thought a ship was sinking.
    After they were cut back, each and every of the hundreds of root balls had to be dug out. Some weren’t completely removed and 17 years later I still find bits of grasses trying to reestablish themselves.
    It was enough to make me swear off ornamental grasses. About a decade passed before I healed enough to let the pretty pictures in garden magazines once again sway me in the direction of grasses.
    And now I’m fully intent on making up for lost time. The new garden I planted this year, a 3,000-square-foot behemoth of a space that stretched me far beyond my usual plant palette, incorporated hundreds of grasses of eight different varieties.     The grasses I planted have little relationship to the out-of-control thugs I spent weeks digging up. These are varieties selected for various attributes including color, rigidity and size. They will not spread by underground rhizomes that stage a coup on the rest of the garden.
    Although the grasses were planted just a couple months ago, they are already some of the best plants in the early fall garden. Schizachryrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’ (little bluestem) is truly minty green. Nearby, Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’ (big bluestem), is sporting nearly black foliage. Both will flower soon.
    Shorter grasses, including Sporobolus heterolepsis ‘Tara’ (prairie dropseed), serve as the glue in a plant matrix full of flowering perennials and add a lightness to the garden. In shade, Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass) will create a river of flowing foliage in time. My two favorite varieties are the green H. macra and the aptly named ‘All Gold.’
    Grasses tend to shine particularly at this time of year, but I can’t think of another group of plants that offers more in a garden throughout the year. In spring and summer they provide movement and texture. In fall they offer color and punctuation. And, left to stand in winter, they create a garden where nothing else may exist.
    But where grasses excel over any other plant (except possibly bamboo), is in susurration, that rustling sound they make as the wind blows through them. It is one of the few plants that can truly appeal to all of our senses.
    The main sense I’m feeling, though, is a sense of relief that I didn’t let my “never-plant-it-again list” get in the way of rediscovering the joy of ornamental grasses.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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