A Garden of Grasses

cosmopolitan-in-flower.jpgThis marvelous garden of ornamental grasses
originally was one of six gardens that make up the Master Gardeners Demonstration Gardens in the Springfield Botanical Gardens in Springfield, Missouri.
    Its space is no longer a garden of grasses but has been replanted as another display. We're keeping the grasses incarnation alive on the website, though, because it was
a uniquely valuable display of the most beautiful and most useful ornamental grasses for the Ozarks region.
     Created in 2005 by the Master Gardeners of Greene County, Missouri, this wonderful garden provided visual appeal and interest throughout the year, even in winter. It was a big favorite of visitors and an invaluable guide for anyone eager to enliven the garden and landscape with its marvelous plants.
     The Springfield Botanical Gardens can be seen at 2400 South Scenic in Springfield.

Jim and the Beginning

Master Gardener Jim Hawkins carefully created the bare-bones of this remarkable garden, promising that in time it would contain at least 25 varieties of ornamental grasses. He kept his word.


Here it is, all bermed and planted in May, 2005.

Bed of Grasses

Near the center of the garden is this felicitous little bed of grasses--a single Evergreen Maiden Grass surrounded by 'Little Bunny' Fountain Grass. For more on each grass, see below.

Evergreen Maiden Grass

The centerpiece of the round bed is Evergreen Maiden Grass (Miscanthus transmorrisonensis), which eventually will reach 3-4 feet in height and if not contained can spread 8 feet wide. The plant is drought-tolerant, likes full sun, and also does well in partial shade. To see it in full, glorious bloom, look below.

The Maiden in Bloom

Photographed on November 20, the same Evergreen Maiden Grass is in full flower. The flower plumes begin appearing in late spring and last through winter.

'Little Bunny' Fountain Grass
little-bunny-fountain-grass.jpgIs it possible to not fall in love with 'Little Bunny' Fountain Grass? This smallest dwarf fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Little Bunny' grows only 10-18 inches tall and 18-24 inches wide, perfect for rock gardens or edgings. The unique whitish-green tufts of flowers appear summer to fall and are lovely in fresh or dried arrangements. It thrives in full sun or part shade and can take some drought. Unfortunately, it must be grown as an annual in the Ozarks.

'Cosmopolitan' Miscanthus

Its unusual variegation alone--white margins and a rich green center midrib--makes 'Cosmopolitan' Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus 'Cosmopolitan') an extremely popular ornamental grass. This plant is just beginning, but don't be misled--it'll  reach 6-8 feet tall. It likes full sun, tolerates drought, and attracts wildlife, and when it blooms, well, just take a look at the next picture.

'Cosmopolitan' in Flower

The silvery plumes of the mature 'Cosmopolitan' Miscanthus are spectacular examples of how ornamental grasses can brighten the winter landscape.

Porcupine Grass

Rich green leaves with gold bands make Porcupine Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus') uniquely attractive. It likes sun or partial shade and grows 3-6 feet tall with a spread of 3-4 feet. A great specimen plant.

'Cloud Nine' Switch Grass

'Cloud Nine' Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine') grows as tall as 8 feet and 3 feet wide, with an elegant, narrow, vaselike shape and blue-green foliage. In August through October it bears small flowerheads. In autumn the foliage takes on tones of gold.

Giant Fountain Grass

Giant Fountain Grass (Pennisetum orientale 'Tall Tails') is a vigorous plant that grows to 5-1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide that produces beautiful "tails" of white with a touch of soft pink in June through October. Its vaselike shape makes it ideal in the landscape or in the mixed garden.

Striped Giant Reed Grass

Just starting out in the garden, this Striped Giant Reed Grass (Arundo donax 'Variegata', a.k.a. A. donax var. versicolor) is only 3 feet tall but destined to grow, and grow, and grow. See the next picture.

The Giant Grows

The Giant Striped Reed Grass finally earns its name growing from 3 to 8 feet in just 6 weeks. This tallest of the ornamental grasses can reach 12-15 feet tall, is easy-to-grow, deer-resistant, and truly commanding in the landscape.

'Cabaret' Miscanthus

'Cabaret' Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus 'Cabaret') has thick ribbon-like leaves with white centers and dark green margins. It grows to 6 feet in height, likes full sun, and tolerates drought. It's also a favorite for its end-of-season flowerheads, which are copper-colored with pink stems, eventually giving way to cream-colored seedheads. Another common name is Cabaret Maiden Grass.

'Adagio' Dwarf Maiden Grass

'Adagio' Dwarf Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio') is famed for having the greatest abundance of flowers of any of the maiden grasses. The plant forms clumps of graceful, thin green leaves about 4 feet tall and as wide. The flower plumes appear in August in pinkish hues and gradually turn white. This grass likes sun. It's said to be a superb choice especially for small landscapes.

Zebra Grass

Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus') is similar to Porcupine Grass in its banded variegation, but has a more arching shape and more irregular banding. It reaches 5-7 feet tall with a spread of 3-4 feet. It does well in sun or light shade. Yes, it looks a bit scraggly here, but just wait. See below.

The Zebra Grows

Ah, here's the Zebra Grass shown in the previous photo now filling out to show more of its graceful, arching habit. Many gardeners consider this plant one of the most beautiful of the ornamental grasses.

Little Zebra Grass

These beautiful sunlit flower plumes belong to Little Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Zebra'). This grass is a dwarf version of the Zebra Grass shown above, growing to only about 3 feet tall and as wide, which makes it exceedingly versatile in the garden or landscape. The foliage has the same banding as Zebra Grass, and, like Zebra Grass, it's low maintenance, doing well in sun or partial shade with moderate water.

'Karley Rose' Fountain Grass

'Karley Rose' Fountain Grass (Pennisetum orientale 'Karley Rose') is a sport, or mutant, plant spotted in 1995 by nurseryman David Skwiot, who named it after his daughter. Gardeners praise it for its dusty-rose flowers that appear from June to frost, its more upright habit, and superior cold-hardiness. It grows 2-3 feet tall and as wide and likes full sun to part shade. Note: It's sometimes called Oriental Pink Fountain Grass.

'Dallas Blues' Switch Grass

'Dallas Blues' Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum 'Dallas Blues') is a fast-growing perennial grass that can reach 4 feet tall and just as wide. It has graceful green or gray-green leaves and an upright habit and in midsummer bears slender purple or red flowers. It likes sun or shade, is highly drought tolerant, and attracts wildlife. Note: Its elegant, upright form makes it highly effective as an entryway planting.

Flame Grass

Flame Grass (Miscanthus var. purpurescens) gets its name from the change in foliage color, which with enough moisture becomes red-orange in the fall, gradually darkening to burgundy. It grows compact and upright to 4-5 feet tall, prefers sun to light shade and well drained soil, and does not tolerate drought.

'Shenandoah' Switch Grass

'Shenandoah' Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah') is most notable for its foliage coloration. Starting out green, the leaves turn increasingly red throughout the summer, eventually resembling Bloodgrass, and become burgundy in fall. The flowers have a reddish tint as well. It grows upright and slowly to a height of 4 feet, likes full sun and dry to moist soils, and makes an especially appealing specimen plant in the landscape..

Ravenna Grass

Ravenna Grass (Saccarum ravennae) grows in a clump some14 inches high that produces tall plumes of pinkish flowers in late summer that become silver, then reddish in fall. The leaves also take on an orangish cast in fall. It likes sun and is drought tolerant but prefers moist soil. The flowers are good in fresh or dried arrangements. Also known as Plume Grass and Hardy Pampas Grass, it should not be confused with the most commonly known Pampas Grasses, which are of the Cortaderia species.

Variegated Feather Reed Grass

Variegated Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Overdam') has variegated foliage and grows in an upright clump to 3 feet tall. It likes full sun to part shade and moist soil, and can thrive in clay soils. The flowers appear in early summer. 

'Karl Foerster' Feather Reed Grass

'Karl Foerster' Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) has so many virtues in the garden and landscape that in 2001 it became the first ornamental grass ever named Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association. Tall and stately--it's been called "an exclamation point in the garden"--it grows to 5 feet tall with dark, shiny foliage and beautiful long, feathery pinkish flowers that narrow and turn wheat in color to last through fall. This remarkable grass grows well in heavy clay or sandy soil and in sun or light shade.

Korean Feather Reed Grass

Korean Feather Reed Grass (Stipa brachytricha a.k.a. Calamagrostic brachytricha) grows well in full sun to full shade exposures. It reaches 4 feet tall and in full sun bears large, upright plumes. With more shade the plumes are more relaxed and will arch over somewhat. The flowers are silvery and lastfrom September until frost. A good specimen plant that mixes well with flowers..

Dwarf Pampas Grass

Dwarf Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana 'Pumila') is an outstanding choice especially for gardeners who love the stately flower plumes of Pampas Grass but don't have the room for an 8-foot-tall grass. This dwarf variety grows to only 4 feet and also bears rich, full plumes of flowers. It loves full sun and well drained soil. Bonus: It also makes an excellent container plant.

Pink Muhly Grass

Why is Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) perfect for Ozarks gardens and landscapes? It grows in a clump of very fine-textured, glossy green foliage to as tall as 4 feet and stands up to winter cold, torrid heat, and high humidity. Fun Facts: the name "Muhly" is short for Muhlenbergia, and other common names include Pink Hair Grass and Mule Grass. To see it in all its fall and early-winter glory, see below.

Pink Muhly in Winter

For lovely winter color and texture, Pink Muhly Grass is perfect with its spray of fine foliage and delicate, airy flowerheads. This specimen is blooming beautifully even after two killing frosts.

Dwarf Blue Fescue

Dwarf Blue Fescue (Festuca cinerea Glauca) grows into a beautiful, small, rounded mound of needle-like, silver-gray foliage. An evergreen (or should we say evergray?) grass, it grows quickly to 8 inches tall and as wide if given full sun and good drainage. It's perfect for rock gardens and borders or wherever among other plants for contrast. Also called Dwarf Blue Festuca.

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