I have previously written about ornamental grasses in the garden, mentioning how they provide a sense of movement as they sway in the slightest breeze, and a useful vertical element and texture to the garden, a great contrast to broader leaves. Not all the beautiful ornamental grasses that we see in books do well in Sydney: the most successful seem to be the various Miscanthus and Pennisetum cultivars. These can form big clumps over time, however, and so are not always that suitable for more compact spaces.
More recently, I have been growing some different sorts of grassy-leaved plants that are lower growing yet can bring the same value as the taller specimens, even though they are not actually true grasses. For example, there is a wide and interesting range of native Lomandra cultivars available these days. Lomandra is a type of rhizomatous rush, and belongs to the Asparagaceae family, which contains many tough, drought-tolerant plants suited to the Sydney climate. There are 52 accepted species and numerous cultivars. I find the ordinary types of evergreen Lomandra pretty uninspiring, but some of the newer ones appear to be great little plants. Ones I am trying include Lomandra confertifolia subsp. pallida, sold as 'Lime Tuff' (ht 50-70 cm), which has lovely slim, lime-green foliage, and Lomandra confertifolia subsp. rubiginosa, sold as 'Seascape' (ht 50 cm), with very fine blue-grey leaves: both will grow in sun or part-shade and cope with dryness. 'Lime Tuff' looks good nearby the chartreuse bracts of Euphorbia corallioides (out now). Lomandra glauca, sold as 'Blue Ridge' (ht 35 cm), has blue-silver, almost succulent-looking leaves. It is said to age to green but my plant, grown in full sun, has stayed blue-silver throughout the year. I have planted it amongst some silvery succulent plants, where it provides an excellent contrast of form to nearby Kalanchoe, Echeveria and Cotyledon specimens.
Also having grassy-looking leaves, and belonging to the same Asparagaceae plant family, are the various forms of Liriope muscari, which grow in shade, bringing linear texture into these parts of the garden, to contrast with the bolder foliage of other shade-dwellers such as Begonia, Ctenanthe and Aspidistra. These undemanding plants cope well even with dry shade, and their leaves range in colour from plain green in the basic species to all gold (in the cultivar 'Pee Dee Ingot'), white-and-green striped ('Variegata') and gold-and-green striped ('Gold-banded'). Most of them grow about 30 to 60 cm in height but 'Evergreen Giant' grows to 80 cm or taller, and has the appearance of a Miscanthus. Liriope have spires of tiny, bell-like flowers of purple or white in autumn.
Ophiopogon are in the same plant family as Liriope and include the well-known mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), which comes in various heights, from a tiny form (ht 10 cm), useful for growing between pavers, to the standard size (30 cm). The fine leaves make a good edging, clump or groundcover. Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigra', ht 25 cm ) has dramatic sultry leaves and provides a good colour contrast when grown near silver or lime foliage or plants. The flowers of Opiopogon are generally insignificant but Ophiopogon jaburan (ht 60 cm) is an exception: it has spires of attractive white blooms in summer. All Ophiopogon can cope with part-shade.
Classed as a 'sedge', Acorus gramineus is an excellent grassy-leaved plant, which will grow anywhere in the garden - including in ponds! My favourite cultivar is 'Ogon' (ht 30 cm), which has slim green leaves banded with lime-gold. There is also a white-variegated cultivar. These little plants are useful for edging or forming clumps, especially in shade, where they can light up gloomy spots.
A final favourite grassy-leaved plant is Tulbaghia violacea, often known as society garlic. This has slender leaves 60 to 75 cm tall, in thick clumps. Violet-lavender, starry flowers appear from late spring to autumn. A cultivar, 'Silver Lace', has cream-edged leaves and is very attractive. Like all the plants mentioned, it provides a good contrast to foliage of different shapes and textures.
I would be interested in hearing of other grassy-leaved plants that grow well in Sydney!
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Check out our new look!