Early fall grasses

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’

Several garden-bloggers who live farther north have posted beautiful photos (and videos) of their ornamental grasses in recent weeks, and invited others to do the same. I’ve held off because here in Austin the grasses still aren’t at peak bloom. But then I thought it might be nice to show a preview and then a follow-up in a week or two when they peak.

Another look at ‘Adagio,’ which is new to my garden this year. It is just beginning to bloom.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yaku Jima,’ also new this year. As you can see, it’s smothered by a huge, flowering Salvia leucantha. I plan to give them some separation this winter.

The mystery pennisetum, blooming its little head off. You may remember that this is not the grass I intended to buy—it was mislabeled as a miscanthus, and once it bloomed I recognized the mistake—but it’s doing too well to pull up, and it’s growing on me.

Bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa )—not a bamboo, though it resembles one, but a feathery, clumping grass. Native to southern Arizona and northern Mexico, it grows well in sun or partial shade, and I’m using it both loose and feathery and neatly topped off throughout the garden. I love its texture and chartreuse color. The kidneywood tree is blooming behind it.

And now for the native muhly grasses. These are more, well, stringy, for lack of a better word, but I like their meadowy texture. They’ve barely begun to bloom, so I’ll be sure to show these again later in the season. Here are three big muhlies (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri ) growing along the driveway strip—a very low-care zone—intermixed with purple lantana and zexmenia.

This is a smaller muhly, but I’m not sure what kind. When I bought this many years ago at Natural Gardener, I thought the nurseryman told me it was a dwarf Lindheimer muhly, but I can’t find any information on such a plant, so who knows.

Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris ). This is one of the most beautiful grasses I’ve ever seen, though you wouldn’t know it from the photo of this crowded little thing. Massed against the morning or evening light, it can’t be beat, but I’ve always had trouble growing it, even when I’ve placed it better than this one. Gulf muhly is often thought to be native to central Texas, and I’ve seen it looking beautiful in Austin gardens, but I believe its natural range doesn’t extend this far west. Check out this link for a picture of Gulf muhly in its glory.

This pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia ), not looking its best either, will be blooming soon. It probably wants more sun; my back garden has become increasingly shady.

Mexican feathergrass (Stipa tenuissima ) is one of my workhorse plants, filling in small spaces and toughing it out by the curb with almost no supplemental water. But fall isn’t its best season.

Spring is. So here is a photo from last spring.

Inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium ), also called northern sea oats. I see this plant on garden blogs across the country, so clearly it has a huge range. It’s also native to central Texas, and if you’ve hiked along the Barton Creek Greenbelt you’ve probably seen it growing along the trail. It seeds out prolifically, so I keep it contained in an isolated bed edged with flagstone.

Not a true grass, Nolina texana looks like one. It doesn’t send up fall seedheads, however, and in spring it blooms somewhat like a yucca, with clustered white flowers on a short stalk.

I know, this isn’t really a grass either, but it looks like one. Star grass sedge (Dichromena colorata ), also a central Texas native, likes wet feet. Mine grows as a marginal plant in the container pond.

I hope to do a follow-up post once my grasses really start blooming. If you love ornamental grasses, be sure to visit Layanee, Craig (take the time to watch his videos of his grasses blowing in the wind), Shirl, and Kim’s posts. Check out their comments pages to find other ornamental-grass links.

I leave you with a couple of recent garden visitors.

An anole tries to blend into the softleaf yucca’s leaf.

This praying mantis was checking me out as I stooped for a closer look at her.

17 Responses

  1. Carol says:

    I had a praying mantis checking me out as I went in and out of my garage yesterday, too. You’ve got quite a lot of grasses in your garden. Thinking back through all the plants you’ve shown us through the summer, and all these grasses, I’m beginning to think you have acres and acres of gardens, but I know you don’t. You’ve really done a good job designing gardens where you can plant a lot!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

    Thanks, Carol. As you know, I don’t really have any lawn (just a lawnette), so that gives me more room for other plants. My house sits on a 1/4-acre lot, I believe, and if you discount the space taken up by the house, driveway, garage, patio, and shed/greenhouse, that probably leaves about 1/8 acre on which to garden. Some of that is taken up with kid stuff : trampoline and playhouse. It’s a small garden, but I’ve packed a lot into it. —Pam

  2. I think your grasses look pretty already, especially the miscanthuses. I really like your container water garden.

    Thank you, and thanks for dropping by! —Pam

  3. chuck b. says:

    Muhlenbergia dubia is a “small” native Texan muhly, and it might be that. I bought M. dubia seed several months ago thinking I’d use that instead of the larger Californian Muhlenbergia rigens, but ended up going with M. rigens after all.

    That’s the pine muhly, and I posted a photo of one growing next to the container pond. My other small muhly is different, with wider leaves and a more feathery bloom. I’ll post pictures again later in the season, and maybe you can help me identify it from the bloom. —Pam

  4. Phillip says:

    Really nice post Pam. I especially like your bamboo muhly and the Mexican feathergrass. Do you grow the muhly grass that has the pink blooms? We always ooh and aah over it when we go to the beach in late October. It really flourishes on the Gulf Coast.

    That’s the Gulf muhly ( Muhlenbergia capillaris), and I do TRY to grow it, but I haven’t been very successful. There’s a photo of it in my post. It is a gorgeous grass, although mine won’t convince anyone. —Pam

  5. The nolina in the large jar has always looked wonderful, but those stones-on-edge have taken it over the top. Lovely use of grasses all over your garden, Pam!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    “Over the top”—maybe MY garden should be called Circus-Cercis! ;-) Thanks, Annie. —Pam

  6. Kim' says:

    Every time I see your grasses, Pam, I think to myself, “Kim, you really HAVE to get some more grasses into your garden!” They’re beautiful, and you use them so well as a fine-textured foil.

    I envy you being able to grow that bamboo muhly–it’s a stunner. Have you ever posted a pic of what it looks like topped off? (I’m trying to envision it, but am having trouble doing so.)

    Thanks, Kim. I didn’t explain very well what I meant by topping off those bamboo muhlies. They want to grow big and feathery, with tall stalks rising up like bamboo when they’re on a growth spurt. I let the ones in the wilder part of the back garden do this, but the bamboo muhlies in the front garden, including the ones I showed here, are kept shorter with occasional haircuts off the top. So they’re still feathery, but they don’t get the wild “hairs” sticking up, and I don’t let them get too tall. Now that I say this, however, I notice that the ones I photographed do have a few stray “hairs” sticking up. I need to get out the pruners tomorrow. —Pam

  7. Ellis Hollow says:

    Inspiring. I’m going to have to go out and shoot grasses this weekend. I think they are difficult to capture ‘on film’. They always have a greater impact in person. You did a great job, though.

    They are difficult to capture on “film,” but I like the way your videos added the dimensions of movement and sound, which are part of the delight of using grasses in the garden. —Pam

  8. shirl says:

    Hi there, Pam :-)

    What a fantastic post on the grasses – you should inspire others to grow them with this! What to say – so many I liked and had never seen before. Thanks for sharing them all with us :-)

    Stipa tenuissima, yes it just grows all around doesn’t it – but gosh what a fantastic display you had in spring. That just reminds me why I always, like you, leave some filling a space somewhere :-)

    I love the pot of Nolina texana but I particularly like the ring of blue pebbles below! I have these peebles in my Scottish garden and if I change an area near them I painstakingly pick them all up and redistribute them. I have had them for many years and have moved them many times.

    My favourite grasses from your post were the Inland sea oats and the Bamboo muhly. I will definitely return to see more grasses in your garden – you have such different wildlife too!

    The anole and the praying mantis I am only ever likely to see in a zoo environment and I will be honest and say that I am quite happy with that. Then again I understand you don’t have hedgehogs visiting your gardens in America. Since writing my gardenwatch blog I have noticed that we all grow many similar plants but the biggest difference in our gardens is our visiting birds and wildlife – how great that we can share it all :-)

    Hi, Shirl. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. Like you, I’m a huge fan of ornamental grasses, and I’ve packed in as many as I can.

    Alas, we don’t have hedgehogs (although I’ve known one or two people to keep them as pets). On the west side of town people have armadillos and deer to contend with. Are hedgehogs destructive diggers, like armadillos? The ‘dillos do go after fire ants though. As for the little anole lizards and praying mantises in my garden, they are perfectly harmless. The anole is quite shy, but there are dozens, maybe even a hundred, in my garden, and I often spy them munching on bugs. As do the mantises, though I’ll admit that they’re creepy looking. I’m glad they’ve made a home in my garden though, and I hope they keep on eating. ;-) —Pam

  9. shirl says:

    Hi again, Pam

    Hedgehogs are 16-26cm in length and are nocturnal animals. They are very much the gardener’s friend eating the slugs and snails! They are not pests here :-)

    I can imagine armadillos and deer would cause a lot of damage in gardens. I’m glad we don’t have that problem here – although some remote parts of the UK have problems with deer. They build high and double fences which help. Having anole lizards and praying mantises munching bugs I could see being a great help in your garden :-)

    They’re cute and they eat slugs and snails? They do sound like the gardener’s friend. Wish I had some! —Pam

  10. Kim' says:

    Ah… thanks for the explanation, Pam. I scrolled back up and saw the “wild hairs” which you described, so I have a better vision of it now.

  11. Layanee says:

    Pam: I’ve just caught up with reading your posts and all have taught me something new. You have so many different plants which do not grow here but the ones we share truly unite us! Love the anole and praying mantis pictures. He was looking at you! What big eyes! Great posts and also loved the NIMG post! I haven’t succumbed to planting Yucca yet but I am finding it more interesting as a structural plant.

    Yes, indeed. I’ve become a convert on agaves and yuccas. They add wonderful structure to my billowy cottage garden.

    Thanks for commenting, Layanee. —Pam

  12. Robin says:

    I love grasses. You really do pack a lot into your garden space. I read your comment to Carol and all I can say is, wow! You’ve done a great job with your garden design.

    Thanks, Robin! —Pam

  13. Nicole says:

    I too, love grasses, and your pics introduced me to several kinds, as well as provided ideas. I have been enjoying your recent posts tremendously, but am so consumed in work its hard to comment properly.

    A strong work ethic will definitely take time away from blogging, Nicole, and that’s probably a good thing. ;-) —Pam

  14. […] Pam/Digging inspired me with her post Early Fall Grasses. That focused me (mostly) on shooting grasses Sunday morning. […]

  15. Becky says:

    I have been looking at all your fabulous photos and your garden is just delightful.
    Yes, you inspire me!

    Thank you, Becky! I’m thrilled that you feel inspired by my garden. —Pam

  16. […] Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ adds its coppery feathers. All of the ornamental grasses are really starting to bloom. Next week I hope to do a follow-up post on the grasses in my garden. […]

  17. Carolyn Nall says:

    Your “mystery pennisetum” looks like Hamelin with its “bottle brush” blooms. I bought one and divided it into about 10 pieces which are doing great.

    I, too, love bamboo muhly.

    Thanks for the possible ID, Carolyn. It might be a Hamelin. I’m glad you stopped by. —Pam