Q&A: Which Grasses Were in That Award-winning Landscape?

Grasses Burton

At the urging of reader “tarbubble,” I asked the designers at Pamela Burton & Company what lawn substitutes they used on their award-winning Malibu landscape (which was featured previously on this blog).

I got a response from Burton associate Stephen Billings. First of all, regarding grasses in lieu of lawn, he recommends referring to the The New Western Garden Book: The Ultimate Gardening Guide (Sunset Western Garden Book) for a list of alternatives to turf for lawns.

As for this particular landscape, three of the ornamental grasses we used are:

• Muhlenbergia capillaris
• Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’
• Nassella tenuissima

And here’s more info I dug up:

Muhlenbergia capillaris

Muhlenbergia capillaris

Muhlenbergia capillaris (left): As summer is winding down and with it your blooming annuals and perennials, Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly Grass) is springing up — giant puffballs of cotton-candy pink, so airy you expect a breeze to carry them away. A source of late-season color, this native grass is effortless to grow and tolerant of just about anything Mother Nature throws its way. The grass forms a nice little hedge, edging, or middle-of-the-border ribbon of color from spring through summer, but when the rosy-pink plumes arise on 4-foot stems, it grabs the garden spotlight. Tolerates heat, humidity, poor soil, and even drought. (From home Depot)

Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ (right): A beautiful grass whose white margins on its very narrow leaves give it a creamy-pale green from a distance. Blooms late and doesn’t tend to self-sow, although it may do so moderately in moist areas. Grows to 6 feet tall. (From Home and Garden TV)

Nassella tenuissima

Nassella tenuissima

Nassella tenuissima (left): Also called Mexican feather grass, it is soft and shiny in the spring garden. Nassella tenuissima should be trimmed severely in the later part of the summer as the seed heads start to dry. Once matured the seed is very fruitful and can become something of a pest. The florets are very prone to sticking in socks or the fur of your pets. This is not recommended for gardens near wild areas as the Mexican feather grass can easily escape. Sometimes sold as Stipa tenuissima. (From California Gardens.com)

(Photos: Muhlenbergia capillaris: Home Depot; Miscanthus sinesis: HGTV; Nassella tenuissima: California Gardens)

3 Comments on Q&A: Which Grasses Were in That Award-winning Landscape?

  1. tarbubble

    riley! yet another hero. i love the suggestions, love them. now to make a list, go to the nursery, and see what’s in my budget. thanks!

  2. riley

    Those of us who grow the fabulous Mexican Feather Grass will gladly donate some to anyone in need. The smaller ones seem to transplant better. Water it regularly until it is established then leave it alone — they are drought tolerant and flourish in non-irrigated parts of a garden.
    They are so easy. Just pluck them out where you don’t want them and top them before they seed. The seeds are icky looking — you’ll know when you see them –but they rake up easy. Decomposed granite is ideal if you want a meadow of these flowing beauties.
    The other pink feather one is another favorite in my garden. It is variegated and very showy when it blooms.
    I have some ornamentals that go dormant (dry out) in colder months. But, when they come back, they are spectacular.
    I also have some reed type ornamental “not-really-grasses.” They are very showy and grow about 4′ tall and wide. These look great next to boulders and on hillsides.
    Other flowering and drought tolerant perrenials include Santolina and Ruesellia Equisetiformus (firecracker?). One is a billowing vivid green with yellow buttons and the other is a stemmy fountain with red tubular flowers.
    There are so many drought tolerant cool plants that can give you the same effect of a tropical garden too. Just reimagine succulents paired with NZ Flax and some Queen palms.

  3. tarbubble

    Thank you! The yard at the house we are renting is a dead, blank slate. I would like to improve it, but not shell out much cash and keep the water bill to a minimum. We have already ordered a meadow grass mix, but some clumping ornamentals will look nice, too. That muhlenbergia is a strong candidate. Pink grass, i love it.