This 10-year-old garden belongs to a home in Utah. It features a lovely mixture of drought-tolerant perennials, ornamental grasses and native plants for an overall look that complements its high desert setting.
The edge of the remaining woodland was planted with flowering understory trees to add layers of color to the spring landscape. The birds that frequent them bring color and movement to the garden all year long. Plantings were sculpted into the hillside with grand blocks of cool and warm season grasses and vigorous perennials creating a sinuous edge to the upper perimeter of the garden.
When designing planting areas, focus on drought tolerant plants that won’t guzzle water to look their best. Purple Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and burgundy tinted purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) provide a long season of color and don’t need heavy amounts of water.
Ornamental grasses are stars of the fall landscape. Their height, texture and movement add interest that extends well beyond fall into winter. Take note of grasses that catch your eye this fall. Look for examples at botanic gardens or nurseries with display gardens. If you’re unsure if a grass’s height fits in your landscape, use a tall stake or tomato cage to represent the grass in planting beds. That three-dimensional stand-in can help you visualize how a grass would look.
Turn up the color with ‘Flashlights’ millet grass (Milium effusum). This bright perennial gives container combinations or planting beds a golden glow. ‘Flashlights’ grows 18 to 24 inches tall and wide, making it a great choice for rock gardens or an edging plant in mixed borders. Give it a spot in full sun with rich, well-drained soil. Hardy in Zones 6-9.
‘Karl Foerster’ is a commonly used feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora)—and it’s easy to see why. Plants form strongly upright clumps that are perfect for creating a living screen or a backdrop for flowering perennials. Wheat-like seedheads appear in late spring and linger through the growing season. ‘Karl Foerster’ tolerates heavy clay soils and is deer-resistant. It doesn’t self-seed, so won’t try to take over your planting beds. Plants grow to 5 feet tall and up to 2 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 4-8.
Ornamental grasses can be perennial or annual, depending on where you garden. Tall ‘Morning Light’ maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) is a perennial in Zones 5-9. It forms a fountain-like clump 4 to 5 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide. The fuzzy heads of purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) appear in summer atop plants that grow up to 3 feet tall and wide. This grass is tropical, hardy in Zones 9-11. In colder regions, treat it as an annual.
A big, noble eucalyptus tree is surrounded by feather grass. Replacing thirsty perennials and annuals with sweeps of grasses was one of the ways landscape designers reduced water consumption in this backyard.
Ornamental grasses combine well with perennials, especially native plants like Tennessee purple coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis). A planting partner for purple coneflower is ‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama grass (Bouteloua ‘Blonde Ambition’), which offers a strong stem structure that stands up to summer storms and winter snow. ‘Blonde Ambition’ doesn’t self-sow aggressively, so it won’t take over perennial plantings. This plant combination is ideal for a wildlife-friendly garden. ‘Blonde Ambition’ grows 28 to 32 inches tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9.
In a young meadow, open soil between perennials and native grasses provides places where weeds can take hold. That’s why it’s important to patrol new meadows and dig or pull weeds. This meadow features ‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis; hardy in Zones 4-9) and silky wormwood (Artemisia frigida; hardy in Zones 3-10). Both of these perennials grow well in dry, sunny conditions. Placing silvery Artemisia in several spots throughout the meadow helps unify the planting, while using a drift of grass mimics a native meadow.