During much of the summer, grasses form a backdrop for dazzling flowering plants, but come autumn, it’s their turn to shine. This is a Shenandoah Switchgrass or Panicgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’), a hybrid of a native grass. The seedhead stalks form an airy cloud of fine tracery. When the stems are beaded with morning dew and lit by the sun, panicum is as beautiful as any garden plant.
Here’s a taller switchgrass, Panicum virgatum ‘Thundercloud’, which reaches about six feet.
Another native hybrid is Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Prairie Blues’, or Little Bluestem. It forms a low-growing clump about 2 to 3 feet tall.
The non-native miscanthus varieties, sometimes called Maiden Grass, are among the showiest grasses in the garden with their eye-catching plumes. This is miscanthus sinensis.
The tallest perennial in the garden is Miscanthus giganteus. It towers over the garden at 10 to 12 feet tall. According to Wikipedia, it is a hybrid of Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus sacchariflorus and is currently used in the European Union as a commercial energy crop, as a source of heat and electricity, or converted into biofuel products such as ethanol, being more efficient than corn grown for that purpose.
I am content just to enjoy mine as a garden spectacle. Its tall stalks typically stay upright all winter until I cut them down in the spring.
I’m especially fond of the pennisetums, or fountain grasses. This is Pennisetum Alopecuroides ‘Moudry’, or Black-flowering Fountain Grass. It was at its best back in September, when I took this photo. As their name implies, the fountain grasses form a gracefully arching clump.
Finally, here are the distinctive seedheads of sea oats displayed on Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’, a variegated version of this North American native. River Mist was new to the garden this summer, but I’ve grown the green-leafed variety for some time. This grass is quite tolerant of shade and can make an interesting addition to a gloomy corner.
The plants shown here are all hardy perennials. There are also some very attractive grasses grown as annuals, but I haven’t tried any of them yet. Whether your garden is big or small, grasses can be worthy additions.