Plant This: Blonde Ambition grama

Does the ubiquitous, blonde-maned Mexican feathergrass have a worthy rival at last? I’m beginning to think so. ‘Blonde Ambition’ grama (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’), a statuesque cultivar of our native blue grama, is a bunching, blue-green grass that grows to about 12 inches tall and wide. In late summer it blooms on 18-to-24-inch stems—a fireworks-like explosion of pale, comb-shaped flowers with a bent appearance, held as they are on one side of the bloom stem, like flirtatiously winking eyelashes.

Tolerant of hot, dry sites and also cold winters, ‘Blonde Ambition’ grama is adaptable across a wide range of the country. Here in Austin it’ll accept full sun or partial shade, but more sun leads to a fuller shape and better bloom. Planted en masse, it makes a shaggy carpet that can take the place of lawn grass, with a lot less water and no mowing required. One cut-back in late winter is all it requires.

Cosmo wants to know why we aren’t growing more ‘Blonde Ambition’ grama. Well, maybe because it hasn’t been as easy to find in nurseries as Mexican feathergrass. But that’s changing. I found my three plants at The Great Outdoors a year ago.

I’m sure other nurseries are carrying it now too, especially since it’s getting star treatment by designers like Mark Word, who planted a long line of ‘Blonde Ambition’ grama along a wall at El Monumento.

Farewell to High Country Gardens
Plantsman David Salman of mail-order nursery High Country Gardens in Santa Fe, New Mexico, discovered and introduced ‘Blonde Ambition’ grama to the nursery trade. David is a great guy who’s been generous to me over the years with plants to trial (agastaches in particular) and with photos of xeric groundcovers when I needed images for my upcoming book. High Country has for 19 years been an important resource for gardeners of xeric (dry-loving) plants, and so I was saddened to learn last week that High Country has closed. The plant catalog and greenhouses are no longer in operation. David announced on his website that he closed because sales were down for four years due to the bad economy, ongoing drought, and wildfires in New Mexico.

Gardeners in central Texas understand the pain of extreme drought and wildfires, and how these twin natural disasters impact regional gardening habits—or even the desire to garden. More than ever we need plants of the sort that High Country promoted. Its closure is a real loss.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

10 Responses

  1. Scott Weber says:

    I finally saw some ‘Blonde Ambition’ this year at Wind Dancer (sigh…another closed nursery) and fell in love with it. I almost bought some…but decided I’d wait and use at a reason to go back next year (silly me). Luckily, I did actually see it a few times at other nurseries in Portland…so, hopefully, will be able to get some next year. High Country Gardens will always have a special place for me…they are the reason I got interested in Agastaches…and you KNOW how much I love them now! I’ve been thinking about doing a post about them next week, and have been going through all the photos of the plants I’ve bought from them…so sad :-(

    I think this grass will become readily available soon. Yes, Wind Dancer is another loss. Too many good nurseries have gone under in the last few years. —Pam

  2. Greggo says:

    I bought a Blondie at 1/2 price two weeks ago. And Monrovia was the grower so this grass should be more available in the trade. I will miss High Country Gardens, their catalog was well worn during the winter months.

    Good deal on the half-price purchase, Greggo. —Pam

  3. Alison says:

    I bought my Blonde Ambition grama grass from High Country last summer. I’m so sad about them going out of business, I bought a lot of stuff from them for a new full-sun raised bed. And I filled up my new gravel garden last year with plants from them too. It was great having a source that did the hard work of researching the drought-tolerant plants for you.

    I have one question since you have more experience with it that I do. Does it stand up better than Mexican feather grass? I am so sick of floppy grasses.

    It stands up in my garden, Alison. It’s not as top-heavy as Mexican feathergrass, I’d say. —Pam

  4. I will plant that! I got one at Northhaven Gardens in Dallas a couple of months ago for $2. (I had a $5 off certificate.) I think I can make several divisions on my plant. I just have to figure out where they will go.

    Have you noticed that your clumps of ‘Blonde Ambition’ are expanding quickly or if they are reseeding? I have its relative – the state grass of Texas – sideoats grama, Bouteloua curtipendula. The sideoats spreads much faster that I would prefer and can look a little weedy, in my opinion. If only my little bluestem was half as hardy as the sideoats grama.

    I haven’t seen any reseeding yet, Michael, but I’ve only had it for a year. The plants are definitely fuller this year, but I hope it won’t be as aggressive a reseeder as Mexican feathergrass. —Pam

  5. Shirley says:

    That is sad such a good plant resource has closed. They will be missed and I hope his extensive knowledge of developing plants for our climate will not be lost.

    I found ‘Blonde Ambition’ at Hill Country Gardens in New Braunfels last year and it’s a good enough spreader that I divided it this fall.

    I’ll have to divide mine to get some new plants too, Shirley. —Pam

  6. jenny says:

    So sorry to hear about High Country Gardens. We once went out of our way to visit the nursery. Unfortunately, beautiful though the plants they sell are, most do not match with our climate for longevity. They like the high country cool evenings. I still have all their catalogues . I used to drool over the beautiful shots of their rock gardens.
    I think the blue gramma looks wonderful along the wall. I’m not so sure about just one clump although it might look good in a gravel garden.

    I’m going to try a few more of these in my front garden, Jenny. Time to spread this grass around a bit. —Pam

  7. That looks very pretty and dainty there Pam. I will keep my eyes open for this :)

    I bet you’ll find it for sale next spring, Heather. —Pam

  8. Laura says:

    I’ll certainly give ‘Blonde Ambition’ a go.

    I tried several clumps of Mexican Feathergrass this spring, and they all died. Pink Muhly doesn’t do well for me either. I think my soil is TOO xeric for a lot of plants. I’m also sorry to hear about High Country Gardens.–What a shame.

    Pink muhly may need a little more water to look good (although I’ve seen it growing well in Arizona), but Mexican feathergrass and grama grass are great for xeric gardens. Maybe your grasses just need a little more help getting established? And of course everything looks better with some irrigation during dry periods. —Pam

  9. sandy lawrence says:

    I want to try this grass. Friendly Natives nursery in Fredericksburg carries the blonde gramma. I’m with Alison; I’m really sick of Mexican feather grass parting down the middle and/or flopping all over everything else, and I comb mine-with a real comb that has very wide teeth! I’m getting ready to cut mine back severely. There are dozens of these plants that have reseeded in my decomposed granite drive, too, that need pulling up. I am growing more fond of the ruby crystals grass which doesn’t seem to have a flopover problem. It reseeds for me but is not so prolific or widely spread as the Mexican feather. It’s a shame, too, because in spring, the feather grass is so great looking!

    I know of other gardeners in Austin who are devoted ruby crystals fans too, Sandy. Alas, I’ve not been able to keep it happy in my gardens over the years. I’m still a huge Mexican feathergrass fan, liking it tall in full sun or floppy in part shade. But it does have a few drawbacks, as you mention. I hope the ‘Blonde Ambition’ grama works well for you. —Pam

  10. Looks like you have a good spot for it! I love the way you describe the “flirtatious eyelashes.” Lovely plant!

    Wink, wink! —Pam