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Modern garden design using ornamantal grasses

Yesterday I was lucky enough to get a tour of the wonderful ornamental grass nursery, Green Meadow Growers, where I was reminded how much I love designing with grasses! The nursery has a huge selection of grasses to chose from (as well as a nice selection of perennials and succulents) and I think that many of them would be perfect for a modern landscape design, or a very naturalistic one. Here are a few of my old favorites, as well as a few I just learned existed:

 These little guys are Carex tumicola. They get about 18″ tall and have a lovely emerald green color. I love these for Craftsman designs, as well as modern ones. They stay very tidy looking.

This is one of my all time favorites: Chondropetalum tectorum. I love its upright habit (it is about 4′ tall, sometimes more) and the lovely blue-green color. It is a rush, so you’d think it needs a lot of water but think again! This guy is pretty drought tolerant. 

 This lovely little one is Deschampsia caespitosa ‘Northern Lights’, and you have to love its knock-out pink and yellow leaves. It gets about 14″ tall.

This one is a biggie- Juncus ‘Javelin’. It gets to be almost 7′ tall, and it does have sharp needle-like tips so don’t put it where anyone can brush up against it. But I think it is so sculptural and has a lovely blue color. 

 This sweet one is Melinus ‘Pink Champagne’ and I don’t think you’ll find a nicer grass to soften up an English garden or perennial border. I’d like to see them in a huge mass planting, as well.

This reliable grass is Miscathus ‘Adagio’. I think it is just the right size, about 3′-4′ tall usually, and I don’t think anyone can resist its soft fluttery feathers, I mean seedheads. This is a grass that moves in the wind, so it adds a whole other dimension to the garden. 

 This is one of the smaller options, Muhlenbergia lindhamaerii, at about 24″ high. It has feathers almost like a fountain grass.

 We all know and love the purple fountain grass, here is its sterile green cousin, Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’. This grass will make you want to run your hands through the soft seedheads. I would love to see this grass softening up a modern landscape.

 This is not a flax, oh no. And if anything, its colors are more rich and complex than a flax. It is Pennisetum ‘Princess’, and it gets about 3′ tall. Or for more of a statement, try its 7′ tall brother, Pennisetum ‘Prince’.

 Who hasn’t spent ages wishing and hoping to find a tiny bamboo to add to Japanese garden designs (no? just me, really?) but been scared off by the fear that they will spread and get out of control? Well, this baby is Pogonatherum paniceum, aka Baby Bamboo, and it won’t spread out of control! It will make a nice 24″ tall and round mass. Doesn’t it look exceptional in a pot?

 This lovely little one is Sesleria autumnalis, and I think it is just the perfect grass for small spaces. It is less stiff than the other tiny grasses, like Festuca, and I think less formal looking since the seeds stand so tall above the leaves. It will get 18″-24″ tall.

Isn’t this one a knock-out? It is Spartina bakeri, Sand Cordgrass, and it will get 6′ tall. In this image it is mass planted under ginkgo trees and I adore the look.

© Kate Wiseman 2012. In San Diego? Want your own waterwise landscape design? I’d love to help! Please visit for more info.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at