Schizachyrium ‘Blue Heaven’
summer, early autumn, late winter
Little Bluestem is an often over looked native yet very ornamental grass. This may be due to its intimidating Latin name but I suspect it’s because it is hard to document its charm in photographs…perhaps a video could capture its grace in motion. We’ve grown the selection Blue Heaven in our garden (see above) for a half dozen years, and it continues to impress us with its upright narrow foliage that transforms in color: almost powder blue in spring and summer, changing to plum wine tones in early fall, and becoming a stunning amber gold in early December. We’ve been impressed with how well it holds up to snow loads, springing upright as the white stuff melts away.
There are now a number of selected forms to choose from. ’Standing Ovation’ is a bit shorter (3-4) than ‘Blue Heaven’ (closer to 4). ‘Standing Ovation’ turns a very rich coppery red in the fall, later aging to a warm caramel color in winter. ’Carousel’ is more compact and wide growing, growing 3’ x 3’, and its light blue green foliage takes on pink to wine tones in mid summer, with a multicolor effect, of pink, wine, and mahogany tones in the fall. We are excited about offering two new forms in 2015: Schizachyrium ’Smoke Signal ‘ and ‘Twilight Zone’. ’Smoke Signal’, maturing at 3-4′, begins to turn red in late summer, but as the fall unfolds the color becomes a dark purple. ’Twilight Zone’ gets a bit taller at 48-54”, with a narrow upright form. It holds its silvery blue color longer, developing dark purple highlights in autumn. These new forms reportedly share the same non flopping characteristics as ‘Blue Heaven’ (aka ‘MinnBlue’).
Do you need more convincing to grow this grass? Here you go: Little Bluestem is drought tolerant once established, deer resistant, tolerant of windy sites, adapts to a wide range of soil types except very wet soils, and is exceptionally cold hardy
, zones 3-9.
There are many forms of Fountain Grass out there, including some lovely selections that are only hardy in warm climates, such as P. setaceum and advena cultivars. One that we’ve been charmed by is this selection of Oriental Fountain Grass, Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’ . ‘Karley Rose’ begins sending forth it’s soft fuzzy plumes in June and carries on through October… that’s 5 months. ‘Karley Rose’, pretty enough for pots, is splendid planted in drifts, where it will dazzle and dance in the late day light.
‘Karley Rose’ forms clumps of slender green foliage which are about 2′ tall and wide. 3-4′ stalks bear smoky mauve pink plumes very early in the season. Horticultural literature states it is hardy in zones 6-9, but a number of our customers reported no losses in zone 5. Give her a spot in full sun, (sheprobably can take a little shade) and a soil that has good drainage. Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’ is a star candidate for xeriscaping, and would be great partnere dwith Euphorbia Helena’s Blush’, Sedum ‘Maestro’ and Calamintha nepetoides.
Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’ (image courtesy of Itsaul Plants)
Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’ is another plant whose charms are not revealed well in a photograph. This variegated selection of Northern Sea Oats, an American native grass with a bamboo likeness, has light and lovely white striped foliage/seed heads, and performs a graceful dance in the garden with any gentle breeze. It does particularly well in light shade and is stunning used en masse or as a vertical focal point in containers. The foliage forms clumps 12-15″ tall and 24″ wide. 30″ stalks bear the showy striped seed heads in late summer and early fall. Take advantage of siting ‘River Mist’ where backlighting will add drama to the display, or use it against a darker shades to set off the white striping.
The objection some may have to this attractive native grass is that it does self-sow, though perhaps not as vigorously as the straight species, and the seedlings are usually not variegated. What one should do to avoid the unwanted seedlings is to cut the attractive flowering stalks for flower arrangements. Plants are tough and hardy in zones 4-9, making them suitable for gardens throughout much of the U.S.