December 2, 2010

A Grump About Grasses

Ornamental grasses can be a fabulous addition to gardens for structure, interest, and movement. I think they satisfy some elemental longing in us for a touch of the waving prairie grassland in our landscapes.

They are bold, statement-making plants that still manage to be soft and flowing.  They can be beautiful when used in a complex, layered composition.

But despite everyone's (and my own) love affair with grasses, I am entirely sick to death of them.  I am tired of seeing them in shaggy clumps everywhere. 

Clumps used like shrubs, paired up under the windows like static charged bowling balls:

Clumps tied up to restrain the mailboxes in our neighborhood, which apparently try to escape too often:

Clumps corralled into restless herds:

Clumps lined up to use the camper.  A blue tarp would have been a better choice here than these switchgrass piles:

A clump of tulle skirting at the base of every mailbox.... see that wooden stake next to it?  It's the guide for the snowplow.  At the first snowfall there will be mounds of heavy snow crushing the tutu and crumpling the whole effect.  It will look like a ballerina that had an accident backstage involving wet cement.

I'm sorry.  I sound like a crank.  One of the problems is that I live in a new neighborhood.  You don't see such rampant overuse of grasses in older suburban developments because grasses are a relatively recent trend in gardening.  But on these newly landscaped lots it looks like every new fiberglass mailbox came with a tamper-proof door and a miscanthus plug:

In addition to worries about miscanthus being invasive, there is concern about the tendency of this ornamental grass to harbor electrical boxes.  I have never seen a utility box in my neighborhood that was not cowering beneath a protective sheaf of grasses.

I took all of these photos on a seven minute walk in my neighborhood, but don't think I am criticizing what I haven't done myself.

In my own yard I have planted a stand of striped Miscanthus 'Zebra' and cute little fuzzy bunny Pennisetums, and tall Panicum 'Northwind'.

I have planted Hakone grasses, both the yellow leaved 'Aurea' and a green and red 'Beni Kaze'.  They fill a role in my garden, although I am not yet tempted to tie any up to my mailbox or make them babysit the utility box in the front yard.

But I am so very, very tired of looking at them.

That is, of course, until I stumble across this old photo of my grasses on a dewy summer morning, and then I fall for their complex, intricate, softly sexy look all over again.


  1. Laurri you are so funny. I have never seen grass tied up like that before. What were they thinking? I am not a grass lover.

  2. Ha - you're funny! I put in three dwarf fountain grasses early this fall because they were so beautiful in my friend's garden. I hope I'm not disappointed! Luckily they are small enough that I don't think I'll be tempted to tie them to anything ;-)

  3. These clump of grasses look cute and funny at the same time..never seen so many grasses all tied up!

  4. Lisa, I wish I knew what they were thinking when they tied up those grasses . . . sigh

    Cat, You'll like the dwarf fountain grass, it really is pretty as long as it isn't overplanted and tied to things.

    p3chandan, thanks for visiting. I suppose there are not so many grasses planted in your part of the world!

  5. I'd love grasses even more if we had examples like that around here. Those are great! We just have the big clumps of Pampus grass and lines of Miscanthus that have no comic effect at all.

    I like grasses but they can be difficult to use well. I love what you've done with them next to your house.

  6. Laurrie, Your photos are so funny, I especially liked the mailbox post being held hostage. I love ornamental grasses but sometimes too much is not a good thing, as most of your photos have shown.

  7. sweetbay, thanks. I think you'd tire of grasses all around here!

    Debbie, too much is definitely not good. We need some restraint in my neighborhood.

  8. Clumps coralled into restless herds ... love it and I think the photo is funny. They look like something you'd see in Munchkin Land. You are correct, though. Too much of a good thing is ... well ... too much.

  9. Joene, thanks for stopping by to chuckle. Yes, too much of a good thing is just awful.

  10. Laurrie, those tied up grasses are odd...maybe somebody trying to evoke the old-fashioned farm landscapes scattered with upright haystacks? I agree that the large ornamental grasses are somewhat overused here in southern New England...and because they are difficult to place into a garden, they end up sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb. as you said, though, they are magical at certain times of the year in certain lights..esp. backlit by morning or evening sun...

  11. Ellen, those tied up haystacks actually sit near a curve of the road, and traffic visibility around the curve was blocked. The solution... tying them up... was no solution for the wrong plant in the wrong place!


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