This month I had the pleasure of chatting with one of our designers Dillon Tuttle about his take on using ornamental grasses in a native planting design. I would like to share a summarized version of some of what we discussed.
In design, native ornamental grasses are one of the most versatile plantings in a landscape. They vary in structure making them primed for visual and spatial impact. While ornamental grasses may be comparatively understated next to showier floral displays, they have an effortless quality to them – long elegant blades swishing with every gentle breeze. Ornamental grasses are ideally suited to give you a palpable representation of wind in a landscape, like the Firecracker Fountain Grass shown below. Lush spaces that are designed not only to stand, but to move. Seas of grasses swaying calmly in the wind…it can be transportive. And after a long day at work, or gritting your teeth through daily hassles, fantasy may be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Mexican Feathergrass is a good example of movement with its flowing tresses sweeping back and forth, but its gentler structure can almost melt into the ground during winter. Rigid grasses like our native Little Bluestem, hold their vertical position much longer and it changes color throughout the seasons. Another added benefit of grass is it’s multifunctional nature; it can be grown for the color, the cushion, the texture, and even as a wind break, giving you the added benefit of a soundtrack to the space around you. For this, Dillon recommends another lovely local grass: Big Muhly. A large perennial bunchgrass that spouts up and spills over like a fountain with feathered silvery seed heads waving at the top. Not only is it local to Texas, it’s originally from this area; and “it doesn’t get more native than that”. Big Muhly is tall enough for privacy screening and is soft textured unlike other non-native grasses such as Pampas which has serrated blades.
The beauty of designing with natives is you don’t have to look far or change much to accommodate stunning diversity in size, shape, and stature. Sedges make great teammates in a bed: they play well with others, can handle shade, and are evergreen – making them a perfect tufted spine throughout the seasons. Creating a meadow-like installation with multiple grasses and perennials weaving between each other can bring a textural diversity to your space and a sense of reverence for the resilience of nature. A community, sharing space and thriving together even in difficult circumstances.
When you’re ready to start your next outdoor project, reach out to us about incorporating native ornamental grasses into your landscape!
Additional References: Skip Richter, Texas Gardener Magazine, https://www.texasgardener.com/pastissues/julaug08/Grasses.html; Potter, Anna. The Flower Fix. (White Lion 2019)
- In General