Rarely do I refer to my own personal garden when working with and designing for
clients. I try to separate my personal taste and take on the style and taste of
my clients so their gardens become their own. Recently, however, I found myself
breaking my own rules and referring to my garden several times when working with
After a little self-evaluation I determined that my most recent clients
were a lot like me. They are passionate about plants, enjoy and want a beautiful
and somewhat unusual garden, have an informal style with formal undertones,
and have chosen a small yard in which to garden.
The number-one common characteristic seems to be our love and desire
to use ornamental grasses in our gardens. The dilemma we shared was the difficulty
of utilizing the most commonly available large ornamental grass in a small yard.
Most grasses also require full sun or they become open, or lie down, as they
split into segments, thus giving a poor appearance. I don't have the patience
to tie up a floppy ornamental grass every year and I assume lots of other gardeners
feel the same. This substantially limits your options if you have a shady or
The perfect grass
Calamagrostis x acutiflora-feather reed grass-is native to Europe and
is quickly becoming one of the most popular ornamental grasses available today.
I choose to plant a grouping of it instead of one of the large ornamental grasses
in my semi-shady front yard for these reasons:
Feather reed grass stands straight up in the garden and never needs
staking or tying. Most ornamental grasses tend to bloom late in the season-August
and September-while feather reed grass blooms earlier, generally about mid-June.
The blooms start out with a pink to purplish cast, and then gradually turn buff
or cream-colored toward the end of summer. Cuttings of the grass make excellent
additions to any vase of fresh-cut flowers from the garden.
I have found it to perform true to form in my semi-shady yard, and the
only maintenance required is to cut it back (5-6 inches above the ground) in
early March in preparation for the new growing season. While it prefers a moist,
fertile soil it is very successful in poor or compacted sites.
In general I recommend planting it in groups of five or more, but I am
learning to appreciate it grown singly or as a simple group of three. Once established
these small groups can be very attractive, even though early on they seem a
little sparse if starting with a small 1-gallon plant. When planting one as
a specimen or focal point of the garden, it is advisable to start with a larger
3-gallon plant for more immediate impact.
This attractive plant moves easily in the wind and is stronger than
it looks. I have seen it lying on the ground after a torrential rain and standing
tall the next day after it has dried off. In my garden feather reed grass stands
about 5 feet tall, but can range anywhere from 4 to 6 feet (including flower)
depending on the site and soil conditions.
Certainly a plant with a wide range of appeal with its deep-green foliage
and feathery plumes, it is suitable for almost any garden and can be grown successfully
in a container on your deck or patio. While many plants suffer if planted in
a decorative container over the winter months, feather reed grass has a high
winter survival rate and can bring a whole new look to your deck or patio this
winter. You can probably find the most commonly available cultivated variety
'Karl Foerster' at your local garden center.
I am learning to allow my personal gardening and design experiences
to work together with my formal training to help others without overshadowing
their personal style and creativity. I am trying to think of it not as breaking
the rules, but rather as giving myself permission to let a little bit of my
own style and passion flow into every garden. Each garden has a different gardener
and together we can develop a unique and reflective design.