My garden is full of fountain grasses, and for good reason
Their unique texture contrasts well with the rough foliage of both evergreen and deciduous broadleaf shrubs. Depending on the variety, they can act either as bold accents or as low ground covers or edging when planted en masse. They can also do well in containers.
They are a very diverse group of plants with cultivars suited to all types of locations, from full sun to full shade and from dry to wet conditions. Although it is mostly grown for its leafy qualities, it can also boast attractive flowers – although perhaps not in the traditional sense of what we consider a flower.
In my own garden, I have been able to incorporate more than 72 individual clumps of herbs, representing about 13 genera, and I may not end up adding more in the future.
Herbs can be divided into two basic groups, based on their growth cycles.
Cool season herbs: They begin to grow in early spring, and reach their full size before the heat of summer hits. They are usually low to medium sized plants, and most are evergreen.
Warm season herbs: These plants begin growth in late spring, flower in summer, and often provide stunning fall color.
Of course, in my garden I have multiple representatives of both groups of herbs, all of whom bring me endless joy throughout the season.
This time of year is especially good for fountain grasses, or Pennisetum species, as they are known botanically. These warm-season grasses are very slow to wake up in the spring. I planted a few clumps of Burgundy Bunny last fall, specifically for fall interest, and all this spring I kept wondering if the darn things were even alive. Sure enough, they finally started to turn green in June, started growing again and are now in full bloom complementing the asters, edum, plum lilies and kaffir lilies, all in full colour. It was worth the wait!
There are many options for fountain herbs to plant in our gardens and this is a good time to keep an eye on them at your favorite garden center. The following varieties are hardy perennials and will not spread or reseed. In other words, they are reliable plants that should come back every year, even if it feels like forever in the spring.
The Missouri Botanical Garden describes this plant as follows: “This is a compact variety of fountain grass featuring colorful foliage and light tan to creamy white flowering spikes. Mature plants form narrow tufts that are 1 to 1.25 feet long and similar in width. The foliage matures From green with burgundy red tips in summer to completely dark red in fall.
According to Monrovia Nurseries, this is “the smallest of the fountain grasses with delicate, orange-colored flowers. A wonderful variation for use in rock gardens, borders, foundation plantings, or in perennial beds. The foliage turns golden russet in fall. It grows 10 to 12 feet tall. inch.
The Royal Horticultural Society says: “Red Buttons have bright green leaves that turn yellow in autumn and light brown in winter. Rough, dark red flowers are produced on smooth stems from mid-summer to early autumn. They grow to 2 to 3 feet tall.
Yes, even fountain herbs come in golden patterns. Here’s Monrovia’s description: “This showy grass glows in the landscape, with golden spring leaves that age to bright lemon, followed by lime green. Light, airy plumes dance softly above the foliage in late summer, continuing through winter. Autumn brings colors Gold and orange. It makes my mouth water just to read this.
There are many other options besides these four, so take a look and bring a few home to add some interest to the garden. Fountain herbs are easy to grow in full sun with reasonably good drainage and will reward you with many years of beauty.
The next free gardening class at Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville is “Spring Blooming Bulbs” at 10 a.m. Sept. 30. For more information, go to www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.
Steve Smith represents Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at Sunnysidenursery@msn.com.