Perennial grasses have long been popular garden subjects, usually for their aesthetic value -- the meadow effect when used in large drifts, the drama when backlit by the setting sun, the architectural beauty of those that retain their formal shape even into dormancy. Festuca mairei (Atlas fescue) catches afternoon light in a California garden There are, of course, other good reasons to use perennial grasses liberally in both private and public landscapes. Grasses are an integral part of many ecosystems and they provide many environmental benefits at local, regional, and global levels. Canada geese feed on
Muhlenbergia are wonderfully ornamental bunch grasses, widely adapted to almost all summer-dry climates. Yes, we are biased, but no garden should be without at least one Muhly grass. As a warm season grass, flowering in late summer, they are particularly useful as focal points and drama for the autumn and winter garden. Muhlenbergia rigens Deer Grass, California native bunch grass with Ceanothus, at Native Sons Nursery The largest Muhlenbergia, M. rigens, is commonly known as deer grass, not because deer like to eat it, rather the big mounds draw deer to sleep on them. Indeed, like many
Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) is a fine-textured bunchgrass with erect to gracefully arching grayish green leaves to three feet tall and four feet wide and a haze of tawny or silvery gray mid-summer flowers on stems that rise two feet above the foliage. Muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass) Native to many plant communities throughout much of California south and east to New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, this adaptable grass prefers some moisture but can go all summer without irrigation if winter rains have been sufficient. Occasional summer water may keep plants nearly evergreen. Easy and fast-growing in full sun
Leymus condensatus 'Canyon Prince' with Artemisia pynocephala 'David's Choice' in foreground This is a wonderful grass if you have the space for it and don’t need to try to contain it. Left to its own devices, Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’ billows around in a large meadow planting, giving the impression of movement without the slightest breeze. It also makes an effective bank cover, its extensive root system grabbing and tightly holding the soil and its leaves cascading like falling water. It is especially nice as a background or complement to other plants. Coming out bright green in spring, this
Blue oat grass with lavender Grown well, blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) is big on drama, its narrow, blue-green leaves forming a perfectly rounded dome when not crowded by other plants and older leaves providing a subtle infusion of tawny gold. In early summer flowerheads arise on tall stalks two feet above the foliage, turning a matching golden color in late summer or fall. A clump-forming ornamental bunchgrass, up to two feet tall and three feet wide at maturity, blue oat grass likes full sun near the coast, but seems to prefer part shade or afternoon shade inland.
Berkeley Sedge got its name from an unlabeled, neglected plant in a Berkeley nursery It is oddly disconcerting when a singular plant, long believed to be a California native, turns out to hail from some other part of the world. One such plant is Berkeley sedge. This bright green grasslike plant was formerly known and grown as Carex tumulicola, a sedge native to California and other parts of the Pacific Coast. Some years ago Berkeley sedge was discovered to be a form of Carex divulsa, which is native to Europe and western Asia.
The cover of the book was cropped from this wonderful photo from Matanzas Creek Winery. The billowing grass is Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'.