Use ornamental grasses to add special dimension to any garden|[07/05/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 4, 2008

During the past 20 years, ornamental grasses have become signature plants in modern garden design. Charlotte Coutch discovered grasses a couple of years ago and has successfully integrated them into the landscape around her home on Nailor Road.

Grasses are easy to grow, drought-tolerant, not picky about soil and ideal for busy gardeners.

Coutch has planted 10 types of ornamental grasses in her landscape. Bamboo, a true grass, is used to create a visual screen that adds definition to the back garden area. Mini pampas, zebra grass and a solid green miscanthus are clumped in front of the bamboo along with a butterfly bush, loropetalum, day lilies and blueberries.

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Purple fountain grass, planted in groups of three, grows near staggered clumps of oriental fountain grass in the flower bed outside the garage. Large Sweet Olive shrubs and crimson red roses grow behind the lower growing grasses.

Coutch said some of her purple fountain grass, normally considered an annual in our zone, over-wintered in a sheltered spot last year. She decided to leave the new ones she purchased this year in the pots in which they came. They are buried in the ground and mulched under filter cloth used to shade out weeds and conserve moisture. She plans to pull the pots out and store them in her garage during winter.

Zebra grass and miniature pampas are partnered with Japanese silver grass, a popular variegated miscanthus, in the bed that runs alongside a storage building in the back garden. Blue fescue grows nearby in a shady spot. It does not tolerate our direct sun as well as the other grasses. More loropetalum and purple fountain grass repeat the purple hues she loves in this bed with white phlox David and pink Anthony Waterer spirea. A dark Japanese maple, located at the opposite end, creates a striking contrast to the shape and texture of the grasses. It also denotes the entrance to a winding path that leads from the garden area through a corridor between the house and the storage building to Coutch’s newest project. Along the pathway, Aztec Grass, a variegated liriope, is planted among crepe myrtle, Indian hawthorn, Persian shield, purple heart and pink dianthus. Confederate jasmines, intertwined with clematis, grow upward on trellises attached to the corridor wall.

The pathway leads to an open shaded section of lawn and a small Japanese-style garden. One enters this garden room through an arbor of Confederate jasmine. Coutch’s husband, Phillip, owns a heavy equipment company and constructed the hardscape. He leveled the ground, covered it with filter cloth and sand and laid 12-by-12-inch blocks. Slag was used to fill in the areas between the blocks and around the edges of the patio. This construction allows water to filter into the soil below, but prevents weeds from growing up through the cloth, sand and hard surface. Raked sand, rocks, driftwood and a small juniper are positioned to one side of this garden. Fire Power nandinas, known as heavenly bamboo, are planted around the hardscape with azaleas, Japanese Painted Fern, variegated ginger, graceful astilbes, Japanese yew, Blood Japanese maple and equisetum. The equisetum, a grass that grew when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, is in a container. If planted in the ground, it can be disastrous to a garden. It multiplies readily and can pop up anywhere. A small grist mill fountain is a soothing sound in the meditation garden.

Another area the Coutches enjoy is the covered patio behind their garage complete with a gurgling fountain and a hot tub. The ground beyond the patio slopes, and Phillip Coutch added a short retaining wall and steps leading down to the larger lawn.

Placement of grasses is not difficult. They need good drainage, full sun and space.

Garden expert Norman Winter encourages gardeners to plant grasses with other plants. He says there is no right or wrong. Coutch will probably plant more. They add certainly add a special dimension.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and master flower show judge, has been active with the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs for more than 20 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.