Contributed by Allan Robinson
What color is your grass? Many idolize the rich emerald green of a lawn. I must confess that after I’ve planted a small patch of lawn in my reconfigured backyard, I have green lawn envy too.
But what about ornamental grasses that come in a wide range of colors, shapes, textures and sizes? The category of “ornamental grasses” encompass a larger range of species, including Bamboo, which is technically a grass, and Carex, which is a sedge and not a true grass. We tend to lump all plants that appear to grow like our beloved Lawn grass, regardless of its actual genus, into the ornamental grass family. Grasses provide a foil for the flowering lovelies of the season but also give seasonal variation including texture, showy flowers, fall color and winter structure and interest.
When it comes to ornamental grasses and color, do you have a color preference? There are the cool blues which can vary from silver-blue to blue-green. Think about those cute little tufted mounds of blue fescue or blue oat grass – I’ll admit it, I’ve seen it used well and not so well. Also yellow, green and variegated are worth considering too. Two of my favorites, which both thrive in partial sun to shady conditions are Hakonechloa macra (Japanese forest grass) available in green and yellow with bright green variegation, mounds beautifully on a slope or the edge of a path; and Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ which has green leaves edged in creamy white. This Carex stands up to winter – just give it a serious haircut in spring before the new growth to keep it looking great for the rest of the year. For sunny locations consider Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ also known as Porcupine grass because of its yellow horizontal banding and stiff upright appearance. It’s a real conversation piece.
To introduce red, there is Miscanthus ‘Purpurescens’ with its green foliage developing a red color in autumn as well as Panicum virgatum ‘Ruby Ribbons’ with hues of deep red and red seed heads in mid-to-late summer. Purple can be found in the tinged blades of Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ that deepen in color during the season.
So you see, the grass isn’t always greener, sometimes it’s the color of the rainbow.
Let us help you find your color.