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Entries in ornamental grasses (10)


Bloom's Best Perennials and Grasses: Book Review for

Bloom’s Best Perennials and Grasses, Adrian Bloom, Timber Press

At last, a book for gardeners who are overwhelmed by the huge size of iconic estates, when they study them for design inspiration. Adrian Bloom understands the predicament; he is a reliable mentor for the do-it-yourself gardener. In this book, he acknowledges that it is impossible to scale down an estate garden to fit a suburban plot or to copy a prairie, meadow, or wildflower garden in a small garden space. Instead, Mr. Bloom advises readers to use the famous gardens only as a source of learning for plant use and combinations. His publication contains a wealth of illustrations that demonstrate how one can create lush gardens of any size while using a select, pre-determined group of perennials and grasses.

The author’ premise is that gardeners should work only with reliable plants. One is grateful to Mr. Bloom for sifting through over 8,000 species and cultivars of perennials and ornamental grasses to create a collection of 400 plants, which he then distills down into 12 essential ones. All recommended plants have proven to be timeless, best performing, and reliable in both the UK and the USA.

The reader is also encouraged to include woody plants and shrubs into landscapes, to enhance the garden with year round visual interest. According to the author, these plants are critical to the success of a garden, because they supply continuity, formality, focal points, and backgrounds; they balance out the seasonal transformations that perennials and grasses display.

To say that this book is lavishly illustrated is to beat an old metaphor to death; but that is exactly what the author has done. Image after image of successful, easy to copy, plant compositions fill each page. By including images of plant combinations in realistic settings, and by giving us not one but two and sometimes three garden designs to a page, the author has created a publication that one might call a page turner, because each image is more inspiring than the one that precedes it.

The book divides conveniently into six segments: five chapters plus an in-depth directory of plants that surpasses the combined previous five chapters in size. The first chapter illustrates the author’s main theme that plants need shrubs to enhance them. Chapter 2 is a pictorial essay on how a combination of both perennials and grasses enhance gardens. Because the choice of plants can be overwhelming, in Chapter 3 the author narrows down the vast number of plants to twelve. Chapter 4 deals with the history, origin, and growing conditions of plants because the author believes that understanding what a plant needs is essential to achieving success. Chapter 5 discusses the systematic process to follow in creating and maintaining a garden. Finally, the book ends with a plant directory that is a cornucopia of information about four hundred reliable plants, a feature that happens to be this reviewer’s favorite section. The photos are beautiful and inspiring, the information is clear and interesting, and the advice is timeless.

Adrian Bloom has accumulated over a half century of experience as a nurseryman and hands-on gardener. He is past owner of the world-renowned Blooms of Bressingham nursery in the UK, and appeared on the television program BBC Gardening World. He is also the recipient of the Victorian Medal of Honor from The Royal Horticultural Society. In America, Mr. Bloom appeared on the PBS television program The Victory Garden and received a Medal of Honor from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

The author belongs to a new generation of horticulturalists who have embraced a style of modernity in the garden that is neither cold nor minimalist. All of the images that Mr. Bloom has collected for this publication have a lush meadow spirit where ornamental grasses are abundant among the perennials. What sets these gardens apart, from traditional romantic ones, is the luminosity captured in the grass plumes, the rich, bold, and earthy colors of the flowers, and the sensuous textures of the foliage. Readers, who are looking for design elements that are both contemporary and warm, will be inspired by the forward-looking garden ideas in this book. The plants suggested may be traditional but the gardens are not.



The American Meadow Garden: Book Review for

The American Meadow Garden  John Greenlee and Saxon Holt, Timber Press 

I am enjoying the new crop of gardening books because most of them no longer masquerade as odes to gardening. Instead, authors and publishers make certain that books on horticulture empower readers to garden successfully. No matter how complex the topic, gardening advice now takes the form of an easily digestible manual, usually integrated into a reader-friendly text. The American Meadow Garden is a bold step in re-defining our outdoor environment. Here is a book that informs and instructs us how to use a meadow garden as an alternative for a lawn. Neat green lawns are becoming an albatross and an anachronism. Evolving lifestyles, shrinking natural resources, and a deepening concern about the chemicals that pollute our water table are causing some horticulturalists to re evaluate the role that lawns play in the quality of our life.

John Greenlee is a respected horticulturalist and writer who suggests using meadow gardens as an alternative to green lawns. This is not the stereotypical meadow with cows grazing. The author presents us with a relatively new concept for North America: a field of ornamental grasses punctuated by naturalized bulbs and native flowering perennials. The design of an urban park, influenced by this principle, already exists at the Lurie Gardens in Chicago. Mr. Greenlee believes that this landscape treatment is far more satisfying than either a lawn or a traditional mixed flower border and that it combines the best attributes of both. Furthermore, he argues, a meadow is more ecology-friendly than a lawn because it consumes fewer resources.

A meadow garden should not intimidate, as it does not need to be all encompassing and expansive. This substitute for a manicured lawn may be small enough to insert into any size garden plan. There it will serves as a place for the eyes to rest, or as a transition between formal garden and the wider landscape..

The scope of information covered by the author is vast yet distilled, so that the reader can learn without becoming overwhelmed. One chapter deals with grasses that work best for landscaping fields. Another chapter discusses the purposefulness of a meadow, because some grasses can be useful in dealing with issues such as slopes, drought, marshlands, and drainage.

A subsequent chapter introduces the art of designing with grasses. Some varieties work better as brushstrokes, others as groundcover, some as filler, and others as a background. In addition, much attention is also devoted to wild flowers and naturalizing bulbs. These plants work well among grasses to add continuous color, throughout the growing season. The last chapters that round out the book include a photo essay on drought tolerant meadow gardens, a user-friendly encyclopedia of grasses, and a chapter on how to undertake a meadow project, complete with a formula for calculating the number of plants needed.

A review of this book would be inadequate if it did not pay tribute to the visuals that illuminate its pages. Saxon Holt is an established and award winning horticultural photographer. The author is fortunate that Mr. Holt has taken a subject, ostensibly still limited in its appeal, and has propelled it into consciousness with photographs that are extraordinary. The luminescence and ethereal texture of the grass meadows captured in these images are a convincing testimonial that such gardens merit serious consideration.



Duct Tape in the Garden

Image courtersy of freeshipping.comOne of the most versatile products in one's tool box is a roll of duct tape. Although many do-it-your-selfers have used it cleverly to solve numerous maintenance problems around the home, it never occurred to me to use duct tape to mend a leak in a garden hose. That’s the advice I gathered from the December 2009 edition of Garden Gate Magazine. In addition, there is a suggestion in this publication to use duct tape to facilitate the harvesting of ornamental grasses without creating a mess.

Bundle the grasses using tightly wrapping tape. Secure the tape by ensuring that one end of the duct tape overlaps the other. Duct tape will not stick to grass but it will stick to itself. Then, shear down the grass below the duct tape at about six inches from the ground. This step, which may be arduous for some, will require gaz operated shears, a chain saw or a hand saw. Don’t even consider using pruning shears or a manual hedge clipper because a bundle of ornamental grass has the density of wood. Carry the neatly wrapped bundle to a compost or garbage heap. Now cut the overlapped duct tape to release the grass.

While this maintenance chore may be done in the fall, most gardeners wait until the end of winter. Dried ornamental grasses, with their magnificent plumes, add dramatic visual interest to the garden from fall until spring.


Be True to Your Colors in the Garden

The salmon pink colors of the plumes of ornamental grass Miscanthus sinensens "Huron Sunrise" not only pick up the salmon tones in the waterfall rocks but also relate well to the pink color story in the rest of the garden.Do you know what colors make you happy? No? Then it’s time to find out. Otherwise you will never be pleased with the garden that you or your garden designer will create.

Last week I met with a client to discuss designing a poolside flower garden. The client’s personal preference for pink and purple had already been satisfied in her front yard so she was receptive to other suggestions. I recommended a hot color story. That direction was influenced by two design elements in the client’s yard. At one end of the pool sat a salmon-colored stone waterfall and, in the opposite corner, sat a clean edge modern L-shaped patio sofa with umbrella, all in jet black. These two elements inspired a hot color combination for the garden. Coral and gold would work well with the salmon colored waterfall and bold red would nicely balance the jet black of the sofas.

The client understood the rationale of my suggestions and accepted the color scheme. A few days later she had second thought about it and when we met again she reverted to her favorite combinations of pink and purple. I am pleased that she changed her mind because I know she chose colors that will always make her happy. That takes priority over all other considerations. Favorite colors are too important to ever be ignored.

So how will I make it work? I anticipate that the ornamental grasses that I plant behind the waterfalls will echo the colored stone and tame it so that it doesn’t interfere with the favorite colors. And as for the patio furniture, there are flowers in hot pink and lemon yellow that will offer just the right amount of counterpoint to the jet black.

Some tips for discovering your favorite colors follow. Look at the artwork hanging in your home. Try to find one or two colors that repeat themselves in all of the pictures. Check out the clothes closet and dresser. If there is a lot of one color represented in your wardrobe, that might give you a clue. And finally, look at the color assortment in the garden. If one color is over represented in the flower beds, chances are that may well be your favorite.


Fountains of Ornamental Grasses; Companions for Perennials

Ornamental grass Pennisetum "Karley Rose" from Click on the image to visit their site.Create a lush tropical feeling in the garden by planting ornamental grasses behind, among and in front of perennials. In early summer, slender grasses grow like fountain sprays, adding movement, texture, shimmer and vertical interest. By summers end, most will have developed elegant plumes in shades of white, silver, gold, orange, pink or sand. Left uncut, these plumes will continue to offer textural and vertical appeal all winter long. Ornamental grasses are also helpful in preventing erosion on sloped areas. The tight mats of their root system retain soil even in the strongest downpours.

Grasses come in all shade of green; the Fescues are a beautiful blue-spruce color. Some grasses are variegated and some like Carex, will grow better in shade. A red-brown leafed grass with sand-colored plumes, Pennisetum setaceum Rubrum is only hardy to zone 6. Treat it like an annual and use it as the centerpiece of a flower urn.

Unlike lawn grass that spreads out in all directions, ornamental grasses grow in clumps that enlarge slowly. Yet, they reach their full height each season. After several years of growing in the same spot, they often develop a barren center with grass growing in a ring around it. That is the time to dig up and divide the clump. Using a saw or a large serrated knife, cut the unearthed clump into smaller sections, discard the barren parts, replant some pieces and share others with friends.

Ornamental grasses are easy care plants. They prefer average garden soil with little nutrients. Too much nutrition will cause then to flop over. Once established, they need little watering. As drought tolerant plants they are most suitable for xeriscapes. However, it is important to verify the hardiness zone and the spread for each grass under consideration.

Some ornamental grasses are invasive and rampant growing. It is only safe to purchase them if you plan to grow them in a container or in an area large enough to handle their wild nature. A deep plastic bucket with the bottom cut off, and set into the earth, so that only its rim is above ground, is one way to contain aggressive grasses. Here are the names of those to beware of:- Ammophila arenaria, [European Beach Grass], Glyceria maxima [Manna Grass], Leymus arenarius [Blue Lyme Grass], Miscanthus sacchariflorus [Silver Banner Grass], Panicum virgatum [Switch Grass], Phalaris arundinacea [Reed Canary Grass} and Spartina spectinata [Prairie Cord Grass].

Short, tame grasses, that never exceed 18 inches in height, include varieties of Carex and Festuca, which look best in the front of borders and along paths. Tall grasses that add lushness and movement, and do not grow more than 4 feet tall, include varieties of Calamagrostis and Pennisetum. The tallest grasses that bring awesome drama to the garden are varieties of Miscanthus. These grow from 6 to 10 feet tall and, like all other ornamental grasses that are left unharvested, remain majestic throughout the winter.

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