— Mary Metrione can’t remember the names of all the
ornamental grasses in her Haddonfield, N.J., garden, but
her affection for them makes an unforgettable
like their lines. They’re taller than most plants that
I have, and I just love it when the wind blows — they’re
all bent over — and I like the ethereal ones that are
real fluffy. I like the ones that are heavy with seeds,
too. Then they bend differently. I just think they give
shape and form and a lot of motion to the garden."
lot of gardens.
a novelty available only to landscape professionals,
decorative grasses are everywhere now — in front of
banks and gas stations, plunked into so many parking
lots, planters, and suburban yards they risk replacing
the Knock Out rose and ‘Stella de Oro’ daylily as
the most loved-to-death plant.
a bored grassaholic is hard to find, probably because
there are so many varieties to choose from, in sizes
ranging from 6 inches to 15 feet. Provided you pick
wisely, they can also address some stubborn problems.
are drought-resistant and require little maintenance
beyond an annual buzz cut in late winter. According to
at least one area gardener who used to have a Big
Problem, they also are not a favorite of deer.
been really happy. The deer don’t touch them,"
says Michael Baram, a retired dentist from Yardley, Pa.,
who four years ago replaced 120 deer-licious hostas with
an assortment of ornamental grasses.
are lots of other ways to use them in a home garden: as
a showy stand-alone; as a ground cover, mini-meadow, or
lawn alternative; in beds that line a driveway or soften
the perimeter of a patio, pool, pond, or deck. If space
is tight, grasses can even thrive in containers.
Cottrell, a chemical engineer from Landenberg, Pa., has
started dropping grasses into his large wildflower
garden. He’s also thinking some 2- to 3-foot-tall
native grasses might be just the thing to plant around
Peace Park Community Garden in North Philadelphia, where
he’s a volunteer.
want to create a meadow that will look appealing for the
neighborhood and also help us control weeds," he
was inspired by horticulturist David Korbonits, who has
managed Mt. Cuba Center’s meadow in Hockessin, Del.,
since 1991 and taught an October class on grasses that
a recent visit, to the source of both men’s delight,
we found Mt. Cuba’s almost two-acre meadow awash in
the low light of fall. Korbonits’ grasses shimmered
and shivered in the breeze, seed heads rattling.
close examination, this subtle landscape exhibited
surprisingly vivid shades of red, rust, tan, brown, and
orange, highlighted with the bold purples, pinks, and
yellows of fall asters, obedient plants, and
cannot choose a favorite grass, though when pressed,
offers up little bluestem, Muhly grass, prairie dropseed,
broomsedge, and tufted hairgrass. And he finds every
season enchanting, even winter.
it snows, it’s really pretty," he says.
uses only natives, which is the Mt. Cuba mission. It’s
also a heartfelt conviction that native grasses provide
the best nourishment for the birds, butterflies, voles,
snakes, frogs, box turtles, and other wildlife living in
and around the meadow.
you have to choose your grasses carefully," he
says, pointing out that some natives — switchgrass,
Indian grass, purple top — can be as aggressive as
where the rub comes in with a lot of people," says
landscape architect Carl R. Kelemen of KMS Design Group
in Phoenixville, Pa.
nonnative miscanthus varieties, for example, are
extremely popular but also aggressive. "Some people
really, really like them and other people wish they
could use napalm on every one they ever see,"
Korbonits, he uses only natives, especially sea oats,
which stabilize sand dunes, buffalo grass, and big and
little bluestem. But Kelemen acknowledges that some
nonnatives, Japanese bloodgrass, for example, are both
attractive and well-behaved.
any other plant, Kelemen says, grasses need to fit the
often sold in a one-gallon pot, which is 6 or 8 inches,
and they look cute when they’re small. But some are
like a Saint Bernard puppy. They never quit growing, so
you need to be careful of that."
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Burns, horticulture teacher at Camden County Technical
Schools, likes his grasses Saint Bernard-sized — if
that’s what the site requires.
planted a stand of South American pampas grass, with its
huge feathery plumes, in front of the schools’ trash
bins. In three years, they filled in a space that’s 8
feet by 6 feet, topping out at 10 feet tall.
people hate pampas grass. It grows way too big and way
too fast. But you don’t see the Dumpsters
anymore," Burns says.
and fast is where Baram, the retired dentist, finds
himself four years after ripping out those hosta deer
magnets and filling in with grasses — he has had to
divide and transplant several times.
matter what I do with them, they keep growing. Now my
wife complains that they’re too big," Baram says.
response: "Yes, dear."
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are some resources on ornamental grasses and places to
Ferns, Moss and Grasses" by William Cullina
Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes" by
Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design" by
Nancy J. Ondra
With Grasses" by Piet Oudolf and Michael King
Botanical Garden, alturl.com/ubq8e