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View from the Garden: Grasses Make The Heart Grow Fonder

I recently brought home about 20 Deschampsia caespitosa, or tufted hair grass, having removed them from a client’s garden where they were no longer desirable. This grass is my favorite! Its foliage is only about 1-foot tall—not a monster in the garden—and its “flowers” are extremely airy and responsive to breezes. I like ornamental grasses, but many are so bold that I don’t like them in the garden, preferring them in beds of their own, perhaps with a very few special floral friends.

I like the Deschampsia so much that I made two new beds for it. It is one of the few grasses that I do put into gardens. A mature clump is large and may need to be divided to keep it sized appropriately, but a smaller clump accents lilies and roses nicely. Deschampsia also works well with other airy plants—I chose calamintha ‘Montrose White’ and pervoskia “Lacey Blue.” Calamintha “Montrose White” has been a favorite for years—I love it at the front of borders and so do bees! I also like pervoskia, but pervoskia atriplicfolia, so often used, collapses onto itself so easily that it becomes very annoying to me. I am trying the Lacey Blue, which looks exactly like atriplicfolia but gets only 12-18 inches tall.

While perusing one of our local garden centers, I found Eupatorium “Pink Frost.” I really do not like any eupatorium at all but this one is variegated, only gets 36 inches tall and is somewhat wispy with small purple flowers. I added three to the beds and look forward to watching it grow. It works well with the three large caryopteris White Surprise (also variegated) in other parts of the garden. But if it turns out to be like its cousins, out it will go!

In another place in the garden, I had two yellow crocosmia that were not happy. I moved them to the new bed where they are now so wonderful that I realized I needed more. I could not find them locally. Plenty of crocosmia Lucifer, which has flame red flowers, could be had. After some searching on the internet, I found the yellows at a site I have used frequently: Old House Gardens. I ordered antique montbretia—orange with a yellow throat—and George Davison, with gold flowers. Oh boy!

Old House Gardens offers heirloom bulbs that make me drool and wish I had a much larger garden and no deer. Some of their bulbs can be found in other catalogues but most are no longer easily available. Heirloom bulbs have several desirable characteristics: They are tough and vigorous, bred for gardens, often fragrant, rare or endangered and unusual. Bulbs and many other plants have been bred to appeal to popular trends and as older varieties fall out of favor they become lost. Companies like Old House Gardens keep them from extinction.

There are daffodils that actually do return over the years, unusual sizes and colors of crocus, plus the tulips. Multicolored, fringed, parrot, species, single, lily flowered, tulips as old as Dutch Tulipmania in the 1600s, and brown ones from the 1920s! Since tulips seem to be candy for deer, many of us cannot grow them. I do have a couple of clusiana that are so small and hidden that the deer have not found them. This tiny-flowered species of tulip is a charmer.

Even heirloom tulips are often not perennial and Old House Gardens recommends digging the bulbs after their leaves have yellowed and storing them in a cool dark place before replanting in the fall. Tulips need to be dry and warm during the summer while they rest and often our gardens are too wet.

As I make gardens for others, I have come to appreciate some plants that I do not like very much just because they do their jobs well. Naturally, because I am a plant nerd, I like the unusual ones the most.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067. 

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