Ornamental grasses add tranquility to human habitat

A human habitat is a haven you create in your landscape where you can relax, recharge your emotional batteries and feel as one with nature.
In the previous column, I pointed out that habitats aren’t just for wildlife. They can be your own special outdoor refuge from all of life’s stress factors, regardless of the acreage.
As we discussed last time, aim to please as many of the five senses as possible. Sight and smell, certainly, but don’t forget the sensations of sound, touch and even taste. Create a sanctuary for the senses, sit back and relax! If you missed the previous column, titled “Your garden can be a human habitat,” you can find it at my Web site www.landsteward.org
In that column, I suggested some evergreens, ornamental shrubs and hardscaping. As promised, this time I’ll discuss some ornamental grasses that will add the perfect peaceful ambience to your haven.
Ornamental grasses can be divided into two categories: cool season and warm season grasses. Cool season grasses start growing quite early in the spring when temperatures are still cool. They can even remain semi- evergreen over the winter, except in extreme conditions. At the height of a hot summer, they need watering or they are likely to turn brown and go dormant.
Warm season grasses wait for warmer weather before beginning their growth pattern and still look good when temperatures are high and moisture is limited.
You can also differentiate grasses by their growth habits. Clump- forming grasses grow in neat clumps or mounds and are often selected to enhance other perennials that they surround. Rhizome-forming grasses have a root system that spreads out beneath the soil. This can be an advantage if you want an ornamental grass that will spread quickly but be aware that this tends to make them invasive and they can overwhelm other plants.
Cheryl and I believe that ornamental grasses add so much to a human habitat. Beautiful in their own right as they sway languidly in the slightest breeze, they communicate a feeling of peace and wellbeing. But additionally they can enhance other plants that they surround, the way that supporting actors can bring out the best in the stars of a movie.
Elijah Blue (Festuca ovina glauca) Elijah Blue is a cool season ornamental grass that is the bluest of all the blue fescues. In the spring, Elijah’s blue coloring makes a great backdrop for dianthus (pinks) as their colors look wonderful together. Elijah Blue forms neat, rounded clumps, about 12 inches high, with color that lasts almost year round.
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ Another superb clumping cool season ornamental grass, ‘Karl Foerster’ is a low maintenance, easy care grass that forms deep green, shiny foliage in early spring and loose, feathery flower iridescences in June that mature from pale pink to golden tan. The foliage clumps rise to about 2 or 3 feet with flower stems about 5 feet tall. It is sometimes described as ‘perpetual motion grass’ as the slightest breeze sets it in motion. It is also delightful in patio pot containers.
Grass Acorus Minimus Technically, this warm season dwarf ornamental is an acorus rather than a grass, according to horticulturists, but it sure looks and acts like a grass! Cheryl and I think this is one of the cutest of the Sweet Flag varieties and we love the aroma of its sweetly fragrant foliage on spring mornings. Note that this is a rhizome-forming plant and will spread slowly to form a mat of tiny evergreen foliage. Ideal between stepping stones in your human habitat.
Grass Pink Muhly This warm season clumping grass comes into its own as summer fades into fall and its giant puffs of cotton candy pink plumes begin their autumn dance of color. Reaching 3 to 4 feet high, this low maintenance grass can extend your outdoor enjoyment well into fall.
PLEASE NOTE: Last time, I offered to e-mail photos of some of our garden projects to readers. The response has been so great that I’ve had to modify that offer. Cheryl and I have posted a slideshow at http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/slideshow/index.html
Next time, I’ll discuss some wonderful herbs that will complete your human habitat!
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org

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