Category Archives: Grasses

Winter Interest Plants

On a recent early morning outing to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens I enjoyed seeing the winter garden.  The plants that really stood out for me were the grasses.  Most were drying and golden brown, but the texture and shape was outstanding.  While many plants drop their leaves and disappear below the frosty substrate, the grasses are standing tall.  They are moving and sparkling in the sunlight.  It seems as if the earth is inhaling and exhaling, like the air rushing out of the a whale’s blowhole.  The earth is spouting grasses!  They haven’t melted into the earth, but rather are upright and true, greeting the distant winter sun.

Other plants were noticeable for their berries, fruit or flowers. Camellias are a sure bet for the winter, but I was surprised to see this Daphne still in bloom.  The rose hips were shiny and bright and are a great point of winter interest.  These were from a white rugosa rose.

Finally, winter would not be complete without the beautiful and graceful silhouette of a Japanese Maple.  Normally hidden from view, winter is the time to admire the searching stems and breathless branches of Acer palmatum, one of my favorite trees.

Japanese Maple

Japanese Maple

Pennisetum Pot

I planted this container for a client and it finally came into it’s own when the purple fountain grass grew.  For months this Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ just sat there and waited out the cool months, barely inching its way upward.  Finally, towards the end of July it started to shoot out and now in August it’s the focal point.  Combined with the geraniums, verbena and calibrachoa, there is color and texture, loved by people and frogs alike.

Just the Facts
Purple Fountain Grass     Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’
Zones 8-11 (Not reliably hardy in the PNW)
Likes sun, drought tolerant
Blooms late Summer through Fall

Fantastic Flowers for the August Garden

As we head into late summer in the garden we begin to see a slow transition.  Gone are the dewy daffodils, the misty meadows, the bright spring show of giddy annuals.  Arriving is the dry earth, the baking sun and the crowded garden where annuals get pushed out and perennials take center stage.  If your petunias are petering out or your geraniums have been dead-headed one too many times, do not despair!  There are plenty of flowers just now starting their show.  They have been biding their time, growing, waiting, soaking up fertilizer and sun, giving us this end of the summer encore.  Radiant blossoms are waiting in the August garden and here are a few!

Rudbeckia or Black-Eyed Susan is the bright golden daisy that blooms late summer into fall.  The flowers are clear yellow to orange and attract birds, butterflies and beneficial insects, which are extremely useful in keeping pests down in the garden.  They grow best in full sun and reach a height of 1-3 feet.  A happy flower!

Hydrangea Paniculata or PeeGee Hydrangea forms cone-shaped flower clusters which begin white and fade to pink over time.  This hydrangea blooms on new growth each year so it is easily pruned and shaped. Cutting it back will not stop flowers from forming the following year, which may be the case with big-leaf hydrangeas. Most of the varieties sold locally form a large shrub which prefer regular water and full sun to part shade.  One of my favorites is Vanilla Strawberry, which turns a pretty, pretty pink!

Hardy Fuchsias are fabulous flowering machines.  I keep looking at mine wondering how such a small plant can produce so many flower buds…they just keep on coming from late spring until the first frost.  Unlike the annual fuchsia of hanging basket fame, these varieties can grow in our Pacific Northwest zone 8 soil, in partly shaded sites.  The pendulous blossoms of pink, white, magenta and red are hummingbird magnets.  This shrub grows 1-3 feet, but don’t cut it back until spring for reliable re-growth.

Pennisetum or Purple Fountain Grass is starting to bloom, finally!  It reminds me of a saying I once heard about grasses.  ‘First they sleep, then they creep and finally they leap!’  The one I planted this spring seemed to be frozen in time for two months. I saw very little growth.  And then suddenly, it’s growing and gorgeous!  This annual grass only lasts one season in our climate, but it’s worth the wait for the beautiful shoots of purple foliage and soft seedy flower plumes that rise up from this graceful grass.

Echinacea or Purple Coneflower is another daisy-like flower in shades of purple, pink and red.  The birds love the seeds and the bees love the pollen on this one.  Echinacea have a long bloom season and make excellent cut flowers.

Roses, need I say more?  This traditional flower with its famous fragrance and velvety petals is a garden stand-by.  After the first flush in June and then a short rest, many roses are now producing an abundance of flowers again.  With our dry summer weather, black spot and other fungal diseases become less of a problem and we can enjoy the tremendous variety that the rose family has to offer us, like one of my favorites, Julia Child, with its butter-yellow creamy dreamy blossom.
Make your way down to your local garden center, pick out some of your favorite summer flowers and extend the garden bloom!  Which ones are your favorites?

Swimming With the Squid at VanDusen Gardens

Any garden with a large wooden squid swimming through a field of grass is my kind of place.  I’ve always had a fascination for these slippery cephalopods.  It began with those stories of the giant squid that lurked in the depths of the oceans.  As a kid I imagined huge monsters, as big as my bedroom with large glowing eyes and night black ink.  I pictured oversize mollusks with their tentacles wrapped around a sperm whale, tooth versus beak.  Later as a young adult I encountered them while snorkeling in Bermuda.  It was just me, floating lazily through that bright blue water when in front of me, suspended in the sea, was an eye.  Clear and knowing, just floating in the water.  Upon closer inspection I noticed more eyes, and then slowly the squid bodies came into focus,they seemed to materialize out of nowhere, their camouflage was perfect with their counter shading and chromatophores matching them exactly to their liquid surroundings.  I’ll never forget those eyes in that blue Bermuda water.  And then later, after marriage and a couple of kids came along it seemed only natural to call them squids.  Especially when they were perhaps getting into deep water I would yell “you squids, get out of the garden, your’re stepping on the beets!”  or after a long day with the little ones I would sigh in exasperation “those squids, they’re exhausting!”  but sometimes before an adventurous hike I would rally the troops with a call of “okay squids, let’s go!”  It only worked when they were little and slippery, as they grew older the squids made a less frequent appearance and their kid camouflage disappeared. Nowadays my encounters with squid are usually in front of a crispy hot plate of calamari, but I’ll always be on the lookout for the legendary giant squid.

VanDusen Botanical Gardens

Today I had the privilege of visiting the beautiful VanDusen Botanical gardens in Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s only a few hours north of my home in Washington and what a great collection of plants! Here are a few preliminary pictures from this wonderful garden, including our botanical hero, Carl Linneaus, Calamagrostis and flying squid, and something I’ve wanted to see for a long time, the variegated kiwi vine! What’s your favorite botanical garden? So many plants, so little time!








The Tenth Day of Christmas—Leaping Plants

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, ten lords a leaping.  Leaping plants remind me of tall grasses, especially those that shoot up between spring and summer.  Grasses are so versatile.  They provide contrast in both color and form in a garden.  They provide movement when a breeze passes through.  They have the most awesome names!  (Calamagrostis? Helictotrichon?  Schizachyrium???   JK Rowling couldn’t have done better!   Bluestem Nursery has a fantastic website that I frequently use for reference.  Here is one of my favorites, Calamagrostis x acutifolia ‘Karl Foerster’.   Feather Reed Grass is a beauty.  I love the tall columns it makes, especially when planted in clumps.  It grows in zones 3-9 in full sun, moist to wet soil.  It won the award for Perennial plant of the year in 2001.  Definitely a plant that will leap into your heart!

Feather Reed Grass

Feather Reed Grass


The first year they sleep
The second year they creep
And the third year they leap!

The Ninth Day of Christmas—Dancing Plants

On the Ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing.   Just as people can dance and move, certain plants possess rhythm and music in their movements.  When a breeze sweeps by they may swing and sway.  Some have a pattern and repetition just like the steps in a dance.  Other plants seem to be decked out in costume, lighting up the stage with their tulle and taffeta.  I watched the Nutcracker Ballet this season and during the Waltz of the Flowers  the costumes were so beautiful, light and shimmering in pastel colors that I was lost in field of flowers during the dance. They transformed the dancers into petals floating on the breeze.  Twirling and whirling on a soft summer day.  I think that plants enjoy this dance as well.  The delicate petals falling on moss surprise me with their random design.  The pattern of bark exposed on a bare winter tree reminds me of a belly dance.  The Japanese Maples with their delicate and artistic structure, yet possessing great strength, could be the ballet dancers.  Why not let the horsetail perform the riverdance?  Growing in moist places, straight and true.  The spirals of the wisteria vine and the topiary are doing the Twist.  Curling their way upward.  The witchhazel plants are reaching out to each other, like two partners in a waltz.  Taking turns leading.  One day yellow leads out with its sparkly flowers, the next red takes over. The blueberries are in the midst of a folkdance.  Moving through the patterns of ripeness, from green to perfect blue.  The beautiful trees, in fresh flower and leaf are definitely doing the swing, as they wave to me in the breeze.  The tree with its roots exposed is a hip-hop dancer, showing off its flexibility and power.    Just look around, you’ll see that plants are not frozen in place.  They cavort, they jump and leap, they twist and twirl, they whirl, spin and prance.  Yes, plants can dance!  Do you have any dancing plants?