Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials

Grasses in Containers

by Rick Darke


It's a delight to see the rising popularity of grasses as gardeners discover the striking array of textures, forms, sizes, and colors they offer. The multi-season interest of ornamental grasses is unsurpassed, and their luminous quality and fluttering response to winds and breezes add to their appeal.

The passion for growing plants in decorative pots coincides perfectly with this interest in grasses. Combine the beauty and versatility of ornamental grasses with the freedom afforded by container gardening, and the possibilities expand to the farthest reaches of your horticultural imagination. Most ornamental grasses readily adapt to container culture; some, such as miscanthus, are actually easier and more practical to grow in pots.

The idea for this pairing first dawned on me while exploring nurseries in Japan, in search of new plants for Longwood Gardens. In Japan, nurseries specializing in woody bonsai typically offered herbaceous plants grown in shallow containers as display companions. Common among these were the red-leafed Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica) 'Red Baron', green-leafed Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra), and its golden-variegated form (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'). Their colorful foliage played against the variously hued Japanese ceramics, creating exquisite miniature scenes. These grasses, shallow-rooted and naturally diminutive, seemed obvious choices for container growing, appearing quite content in pots as shallow as 2 inches. But I was intrigued to find a narrow-leafed, white-striped miscanthus in a slightly larger container, forming a fountain of foliage about 18 inches high. Though an apparent miniature, this grass was later revealed to be the superb variety we now call Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light', which can grow more than 6 feet tall when planted in the ground.

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