Fall grasses at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Continuing my series of posts about Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin, what could be more natural or more stunning for a midwestern garden in early fall than swaths of ornamental grasses in full bloom? A mix of natives and exotics, like this stand of Miscanthus sinensis, they added a tactile quality to the garden, begging you to reach out and touch them, as well as breezy movement and a light-grabbing incandescence.

This Pennisetum‘s toasty inflorescence was so touchable, like soft bottle brushes.

A closer look

I wasn’t diligent about writing down plant IDs, but this looks like a cloud of native grasses paired with allium seedheads.

Garden paths winding through grasses and gaura in bloom cry out for eager exploration, and this girl gave herself over to it.

The white inflorescence of the taller miscanthus grass is shown off to perfection against the dark backdrop of evergreens. The bottlebrush blooms of pennisetum seem to explode in front.

I visited Olbrich twice, once at midday and once in late afternoon, when the grasses were incandescent.

With the light shining through it, this miscanthus looked almost as if it were encased in ice.

I felt right at home in this sunny garden, which reminded me of Texas with its crushed-gravel paths and xeric grasses.

I think this might be prairie dropseed, but correct me if I’m wrong. I loved the see-through quality of its inflorescence.

A closer look

For more images from these gardens, see my recent posts about butterflies at Olbrich and a secret hideaway under a curly willow. Tune in tomorrow for an overview of my favorite scenes from Olbrich, from a Mediterranean-style courtyard to a moist shade garden to a birch walk.

All material © 2006-2010 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

10 Responses

  1. Donna says:

    The photos are phenomenal. I love grasses in the late afternoon of fall. They come to life in the garden. Seeing them so naturally planted is refreshing, as they need the room to reach their proper size. That is why I end up with so many homeless grasses. Often they are bought when small and planted in tight conditions, and quickly grow out of the space allowed. This must have been a beautiful garden to explore, relaxing and rejuvenating at the same time.

    You are so right, Donna. It is easy to get overwhelmed by large ornamental grasses in a small suburban garden. Seeing them in a public setting where they have room to “spread their wings” is inspiring. I had a similar experience at Chicago Botanic Garden in October a few years ago. —Pam

  2. ESP says:

    Loved that shot of the angled girl running on the curved paving stones through the grasses, so much movement! Great post Pam…loved seeing all the grasses naturally, interesting on how they were planted and their contrasting backdrops. Great images, very magical and inspiring post.

    Thanks, ESP. There’s certainly some inspiration from the Patch in the framing of that image, but mostly it was luck to see the girl running through while I had my camera ready. —Pam

  3. Les says:

    Fantastic photos, I especially like the first one. I am trying to put more people in my photos, but it can be awkward when you do, I don’t won’t to be that old creepy guy with a camera.

    Ha. Maybe it’s easier to get away with it if you’re a woman, but I take pictures of people all the time. I try to do it unobtrusively for the most part, and I never post images that I think are unflattering. Lately I’ve been getting braver about asking people to pose for photos, including the first two in my recent post about the Madison farmers market. —Pam

  4. Layanee says:

    The grasses are strutting their stuff with the lower light shining through. We are just a week or two away from our first frost and it is hard to believe that the gardening season is winding down.

  5. Jane B says:

    Gorgeous pix, thank you. Enjoyed your interview on CTG. Lots of good info and more great pictures.

  6. Megan says:

    I’m loving all the Olbrich posts! Matti and I lived a mile or so away, and went all the time. Sometimes we’d even canoe over :)

  7. Scott Weber says:

    Wonderful photos! I’m such a sucker for grasses, wish I had room to do something like that!

  8. Love that top photo–it perfectly captures how _I_ feel about grasses. Madison is a lovely, lovely town. My husband’s family is from there originally and I’d love to live there except for this stuff that they get every year. Let’s see, what is it called…give me a second, I’ll think of it…Oh yes!


  9. I love when snow or frost gather on miscanthus flowers… gorgeous pics!

  10. […] got more to post. If, like me, you can’t get enough, see yesterday’s post about Olbrich’s ornamental grasses. Tune in tomorrow for more of my favorite scenes from […]