I sometimes think that we should plant grasses specifically for the winter. They can add so much magic this time of year!
Bent over from the weight of ice and snow, this seed head of Miscanthus 'Morning Light' is true to its name when it glows in the morning light like a series of gold chains.
Still looking good going into the Fall is Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens' (Flame Grass) fronted by Penstemon 'Husker's Red' (Beardtongue). However, I think the toughest of the trio of plants shown here might be the Melianthus major (Honeybush) to the left of the photo. This plant is rated at USDA Zone 8 and we grow it as an annual here. Yet, it stood tall and retained much of its beautiful color after quite a few October nights where the temp dropped below 32 degrees!
The 8-foot tall Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder' reaches for the sky on a beautiful November morning.
I love it when Miscanthus 'Morning Light,' one of our favorite grasses at Juniper Hill, develops its annual case of the frizzies. Toward the end of the season, before the grass turns to its winter beige color, many of the individual blades begin to curl and develop these wonderful highlights. Just another good reason to add this beautiful grass to your garden!
Skyward Bound: We love the way grasses can extend the gardening season right through fall and into winter. This is the largest grass we grow. It's Miscanthus x Giganteus, Giant Silver Grass. It's hardy to zone 4, has very large flower heads and can grow to 10-12 feet in a single season. It's a clump forming grass and the clumps can grow very large so it must have plenty of space. It can be useful as a screen or hedge which is exactly how we use it here, to screen out our huge compost heap. Interestingly, because the grass grows so rapidly in a single season, some farmers have begun to grow it as a source of biomass or biofuel, for livestock bedding, and as a cover crop to provide shelter for birds such as pheasants and partridges.
A foggy Autumn day around the frog pool at Juniper Hill, where several species of grasses provide a natural look, including Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold.'
Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens' (Flame Grass) on a wet and foggy November day.
Light and Shadow: The late afternoon autumn sun makes this Dwarf Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln') and these Actaeas (Actaea simplex 'Hillside Black Beauty') really glow in a border of the Zen Garden.
The beautiful seed heads of Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder.'
The seed heads of Panicum virgatum 'Cheyenne Sky' (L) and Miscanthus 'Morning Light' (R) catch a few raindrops on a wet December day.
We use Miscanthus 'Morning Light' in quite a few spots throughout the garden. The grass not only has a delicate form and color that goes well with most of the plants in the garden during the growing season but, in the fall, it develops beautiful seed heads that start off almost metallic purple, then fade to a wonderful shade of light magenta, and finally end up a soft and fluffy cream color
Miscanthus 'Morning Light' as the seed heads turn to a more fluffy cream color.
A large Miscanthus 'Morning Light' serves a more architectural role, especially in winter, where it marks the intersection of two paths in the garden.
Another good reason not to cut grasses back until spring is the way that they can glow on a foggy December morning. Here, four different varieties of grasses warm up the area around the frog pool at Juniper Hill, including the bright Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold' in the foreground of the photo.
If you think you'd like to add more grasses to your garden or landscape, here's a great resource by Rick Darke that will get you started. Click on the book image for more details.