Grasses: Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design

Grasses: Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design


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From the dazzling orange leaves of Flame Grass to the feathery purple haze of Switch Grass, ornamental grasses can add a vibrant and colorful dimension to any garden. Nancy J. Ondra shows you how to use grasses on their own or in tandem with perennials, annuals, and shrubs to add visual interest and texture to your outdoor space. Insightful profiles of dozens of varieties of ornamental grasses enlivened by Saxon Holt’s stunning photography will inspire you to create your own dynamic, grass-filled gardens. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580174237
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 02/01/2002
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 1,144,180
Product dimensions: 9.56(w) x 9.63(h) x 0.44(d)

About the Author

Nancy J. Ondra, author of Container Theme Gardens, is a garden writer and editor as well as the former owner and operator of a small rare-plant nursery. She is the author or co-author of a dozen gardening books, including Foliage (winner of the 2008 Book Award from the American Horticultural Society), The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer (winner of a 2006 Silver Award from the Garden Writers Association), Five-Plant Gardens, The Perennial Care Manual, Fallscaping, and Grasses. She currently gardens in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and blogs at

Saxon Holt has combined his career as a photographer with a lifelong love of gardening. His work has appeared in dozens of books and gardening magazines. He is a member of the American Society of Media Photographers, the American Society of Picture Professionals, and the Garden Writers of America Association, from which he has received three awards for his photography.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 3 - Color Palettes

Ornamental grasses come in an astounding array of hues and shades, from bright red and gold to copper, bronze, steel blue, and silver. The colors of some change to punctuate the seasons, creating variety that gardeners anticipate with delight; others offer consistent foliage color. A single colorful grass, such as the rich reddish purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'), can add welcome drama to a simple container planting from spring to frost; in masses, it makes a striking long-season landscape accent.

Grasses that change color throughout the year present a challenge, albeit an enjoyable one. With some grasses, spring color is most vivid, as with the sunny yellow foliage of golden wood millet (Milium effusum 'Aureum') or the bright white stripes of variegated bulbous oat grass (Arrhenatherum elatius ssp. bulbosum 'Variegatum'). These early birds are carefree companions for other spring beauties, including tulips, forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica), and bleeding hearts (Dicentra spp.). Other ornamental grasses are at their most vivid in late summer and fall. The plain green early foliage bides its time while spring and early summer flowers take the stage, then gradually steps to the fore in a colorful show as summer progresses. Fall invites still more varied hues, with the changing shades of warm-season grasses fading to subdued rusts, bronzes, and golds after frost.

Ornamental grasses offer a vibrant color palette for the garden. May the images that follow inspire you to explore color in new, perhaps unexpected ways.

Glowing Golds and Bronzes

If you enjoy growing and using plants with colorful foliage, you'll find many golden and bronze grasses to add to your plant palette. Many of these grasses are striking enough to stand alone, but showcasing them with carefully chosen annual and perennial companions accentuates their true beauty.

Gold- and yellow-leaved grasses are particularly well suited for making exciting color combinations. Create a simple but handsome contrast by pairing a bright yellow or gold grass with a dark-green-leaved companion; for example, to add drama to a shady site, try golden wood millet (Milium effusum 'Aureum') against the daphnelike foliage of Robb's wood spurge (Euphorbia robbiae). For a cool-color combination and fabulous textural contrast, pair a golden grass with the bold foliage of a blue-leaved or blue-and-gold variegated hosta, such as 'Halcyon' or 'Aurora Borealis'. If you want a more daring display, combine golden grasses with plants having moody purple, maroon, or black foliage. Picture, if you will, golden greater wood rush (Luzula sylvatica 'Aurea') spiking up through the lacy, near-black leaves of 'Ravenswing' anthriscus (Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing'), or the glowing foliage of Bowles' golden sedge (Carex elata 'Aurea') spilling over the broad foliage of 'Chocolate Ruffles' heuchera (Heuchera hybrid 'Chocolate Ruffles'). With just two

Table of Contents

Versatile Partners: getting to Know Grasses as Garden Plants (8)

Color Palettes: Creating Stunning Combinations with Grasses (30)

Yearlong Beauty: Transforming Every Garden through the Four Seasons (54)

Problem Solvers: Selecting Special Grasses for Special Places (94)

USDA Hardiness Zone Map (128)

Great Grasses for Every Need (129)

Garden, Location, and Design Credits (134)

Index (136)

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