Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Blooming Grasses

My gardening season starts on Christmas day, when the tradition on my farm has been to light the fireplace, brew a pot of tea, and surround myself with spring catalogs that have been poring in. I start with a sharp pencil, Post-its for marking pages, lists of seeds and plants, and fantasies of what my garden could look like. My tradition continues on New Year’s Day. While the other half of my family celebrates with college bowl games, I try on old and new plant favorites on my wish list.

My visions are vivid for spring and summer, much less so for fall and winter. I do my major garden center buys between April and June, and am seduced by plants not on my list because they’re coming in to season. If I got to a nursery more often in fall I‘d have more grasses in my garden because they’d scream ‘Take me home.’

During fall and winter many grasses show off best. Majesty of structure, movement with the breeze, whispering sounds, a backdrop of crimson and gold trees or a dusting of snow, are some of the reasons to plant grasses. In Mid-November the sun streaming through blooming grasses in the Conservatory Garden is one of the highlights of the display. (top center)
The Conservatory Garden is a largely hidden treasure on 105th and 5th in Central Park.

On the right, noted garden photographer Alan Detrick captures light playing off the grasses in one of my fall displays. (©Alan & Linda Detrick)

New York City gardeners find that that grasses are perfect for containers and many like sea oats, golden variegated Hakonechloa,and Japanese blood grass do well in light shade. Use grasses like the tough Giant Reed (Arundo donax) for screening as well as aesthetics. Remember that the annual spring shearing will leave you temporarily exposed. On the right, my rooftop garden in September with Pennisetum grass, black-eyed Susans, and the lovely Joe-Pye variety, Eupatorium 'Little Joe' (Double-click to enlarge photo.)

Cut a few stems of any grass from your garden when the plant is coming into bloom and stand them in an attractive container. They’ll dry in place and give you an elegant but inexpensive display all winter. If you don’t have any of your own, look in vacant lots for weed grasses like green foxtail, that looks fantastic dried. Pick in the green stage, late summer to early fall so the seeds won’t drop all over your floor as the bloom dries.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ellen: Thanks for the helpful explanation of why cut grasses drop their seeds indoors.
From now on, I'll know to cut them before they mature!

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Hi Fern, What's good for drying grasses is bad for drying hydrangea. Cut and dry those showy shrubs only when the petal are very mature, otherwise you'll see major shriveling. Thanks for stopping by. ESP

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