Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Grasses with class (and a secret weapon as well!)

Muhlenbergia reverchonii UNDAUNTED in the Rock Alpine Garden DBG

I have sung the praises of this grass in a few other blogs: I am amazed any plant so dazzling for such a long time is still not Universally grown: I drive hundreds of linear miles through Denver every week and have only seen this once on my drives--in Mike Kintgen's garden. If I were Trump, or perhaps an even more clever tyrant I'd order 2/3 of the Karl Foerster Calamagrostis in Denver to be replaced by this. Silly thought that: the Donald would never do anything so clever and tasteful!

Muhlenbergia reverchonii 'Undaunted'
Here is a clump by itself at Chatfield Farms near the Schoolhouse. Lauren Springer Ogden and her husband Scott found and introduced this form from fields near Dallas, Texas, I believe. Not only are they brilliant writers, designers, gardeners but plant explorers to boot! I never cease to be amazed at how plants from central and even Southern Texas have proved so hardy. I just got a Facebook Message from Jamie Ellison (a great plantsman who lives in Nova Scotia): this is thriving for him up THERE! He promised me a picture which I'll post here when I get it to prove it!

And here's a mass planting at the City of Denver greenhouses....

Achnatherum calamagrostis at the late great Kendrick Lake

As long as we're discussing spectacular grasses that no one is growing, how about THIS hummer!  Yet another fantastic grass first promoted by Lauren and shared with David Salman (when these two are behind a plant, better scamper and get it). High Country has sold it for a decade or more, but it hasn't caught on. Plant Select will promote it next year--so finally the mule-headed designers and landscapers MIGHT catch on eventually and replace a few of their goddamn Karl Foersters with these superior plants: why superior?

              1) they look good far longer in the summer--Karl looks autumnal by July: How stupid is that?
              2) they hold up well in late summer and fall when Karl begins to fall apart and is invariably cut to the nubbins by stupid landscapers and ignorant folk in general. Did I mention that I hate that?
              3) both of these grasses are MUCH more drought tolerant than the aforementioned stupid Karl Foerster. The secret weapon I alluded to in the title: we live on a frickin' steppe--with average rainfall of 12-15". To plant water demanding plants is really an act of supreme stupidity--which of course characterizes almost 98% of Horticulture in the Rockies. And our moronic electorate that won't vote. But I digress... Come to think of it, I visited Victoria, British Columbia in September and Paul Spriggs and Erik Fleischer (two designers of extraordinary talent I spent time with there) were both fuming as much as me about THEIR stupid landscapes with brown weedy turf and stressed out rhodies and hydrangeas on life support. Landscaping in North America is in almost in as dire a state as our stupid Executive, Legislative and now Judiciary that are polluted with the lowest forms of human cupidiuty, turpitude and malfeasance*--but I digress....

Sporobolus wrightii on the street in Denver. Any old street!

Not only do I digress, I recant! A significant number of the aforementioned designers and landscapers are beginning to use Giant Sacaton more and more: I'm seeing this all over Denver. Just think of it: they're planting a Southwestern Native (which grows within spitting distance of Colorado in 4 corners!), that thrives on neglect and can take the worst droughts, which looks awesome year around and doesn't seem to seed around. Which lives forever and looks stunning in the backlight. Which is subtle and combines so well with neighbors! Who'd a thunk? Of course, this is a testament to Plant Select--a program I helped create and applaud (and is having a new gust of energy with Ross Shrigley at the helm).

So perhaps there's some hope after all! Just be sure to get your grass in gear (and vote this November).

*I can use big words like that because the racist pseudo-religious right can only read monosyllables with their lips moving the while, and don't know how to look them up anyway...

P.S. If you're offended by my partisan point of view please stick a Karl Foerster in your ear.


Attention: in the interest of fair play and transparency, I must append my comments above with a communication from Lauren Springer Ogden. This is an extract from an email we exchanged after I'd published this Blog:  I regret that the nearly 1000 blog viewers who have seen this post thus far won't get "the other side" from the Goddess herself, but here's the quotation from Lauren:

"I do love Karl Foerster grass (though haven’t grown it in 16 years, prefer Overdam) and actually it is not a water pig in my experience, no more so than any of the three grasses you discuss. Giant sacaton does best with some irrigation, it’s an arroyo plant. Ruby muhly grows on hardpans that can be standing in water or baked dry periodically as the season progresses in places that get 30-35” rain per year albeit a lot more heat. Alpine plume grass grows on seasonally moist mountain meadows in the southern Alps with similar rainfall. Truly xeric bunchgrasses are indian rice, needle and thread, three-awn, and blue grama and even the latter has failed to green up around Santa Fe for several of the last ten years. I have a cool-ass hardy blue-ish big muhly i collected in NE NM about a decade ago that may be a winner and xeric, am watching it closely now that it has started to flourish since it has found a happier home in my new place’s silty, cobbly soil, it just sat at my former garden in clay." (Lauren Springer Ogden, October 11, 2018)


  1. Damn!( I think I'd be sticking a few Karl Foerester's somewhere other than a dainty ear...

  2. I applaud your comments! I agree wholeheartedly and enjoy your blog immensely!

  3. Here, here! My credit card is going blue from all the races I am donating to! (Little $25 donations, but damn it, I've got to do more than vote.)

  4. Surely you jest: "Landscaping in North America is in almost in as dire a state as our stupid Executive, Legislative and now Judiciary that are polluted with the lowest forms of human cupidiuty, turpitude and malfeasance" Landscaping at is worst is still someone's attempt at beauty and greening. The wanton stupidity and self serving motives of politicians makes me angry on a whole 'nuther scale

  5. I see your point of view, you noble Jeffersonian. I agree that ignorant (not to say evil) politicians who corrupt the sphere political will probably end in a deeper ring of hell than landscrapers who plant the same old tired shit that is climatically inappropriate and ugly. But are not our landscapes a reflection of our body politic? Touche! (Love ya, Saxon!)

  6. I am enjoying your rant. You elegantly express what I think of the current crop of politicians and their cronies. I am glad that you can't see my garden. I would probably have to get out the dictionary to see what you really think.

    1. I have no doubt your garden would be my cup of tea: I only pull out the vocabulary to obfuscate when I veer into unpleasant political ground. Logomachy is a poor substitute for winning elections.

  7. BRAVO!

    Lauren and Scott are decades ahead of the future when our gardens start to settle into an emulation of the natural biome of the Denver area, which is indeed, a GRASS-dominated steppe. The results are not only gorgeous, dynamic, but human maintenence/experience within the garden is greatly calmed from the traditional frantic habits of life-support-style intensive work and labor needed to buttress a culture of traditional gardens/landscapes. Humans are amazing at sticking with the status quo, even if its silly or even dangerous.

    I'll be planting "Undaunted" Muhly in Cheyenne Next year, where I'm sure it will do just fine. Note- it RARELY reseeds- I have found one single seedling in the APEX garden since 2014.

  8. I have my own little rant. The Chicago Botanic Garden put in a gravel garden as can be seen at the following link.

    I left a comment saying most of the plants chosen would not last long and if they would like plants that would do better in this situation then send me an e-mail. In typical Chicago style, they showed appreciation for my offer by deleting my comment.

    The simple fact is they included 3 cultivars of plants native to gravel depositions in the region and a few more from similar habitats in nearby regions. A lot of work has to be put into maintaining most of the selections chosen because better adapted native plants and weed will keep trying to overtake the space. I grow a number of native plants from gravel habitats for ecological restoration. I could easily provide them these plants, but I guess some people just have to learn the hard way.

  9. As a landscape designer anxious to move past the long age of junipers in Denver landscapes, I nave planted hundreds of miscanthus, Karl Foersters and Russian sage for scores of customers. Each plant seduced me in turn before revealing their limitations and faults; the tendency of Miscanthus to form dead centers and Russian sage to sneakily conquer the garden by rhizomes from below and, of course, you covered K.F. grass to a tee! Today, I trust the Plant Select program to provide winners for the front range landscape. I only wish we had a fraction of the choices years ago that spoil us today. We owe this to the concerted efforts of a generation of horticulturists at Denver Botanic Gardens and CSU as well as a handful of farsighted nurserymen and designers who added dramatically to our local plant palette!

  10. Thank you "Unknown" for your generous and very kind comments. Makes me feel sort of guilty for throwing Karl under the bus and poking the right wingbats in the metaphysical eye.

  11. Following your ornamental grass theme, here is a photo of grasses in a native plant garden. I have been removing the weeds from this garden since it was planted four years ago. This garden is at a nature sanctuary near my home.

    Here is a picture of the garden when flowers are blooming in summer. Also included is a picture of an area on the opposite side of the trail that was planted, but which has not benefited from my efforts.

  12. Beautiful pix, James. I especially like the midsummer shots. The Tallgrass prairie has provided so many plants and inspiration to gardeners. I'd love to see those in person--and will be in Chicago come March (too early, alas, for most prairie plantings). It would be fun to meet you in person!

  13. Did we forget to take our Valium before blogging? ;-) Love the rant!

    Just one thing: Muhlenbergia reverchonii is awesome but in my experience only really looks good with fairly consistent moisture in summer.

    1. I have never taken Valium in my life: but if fascism continues its hideous march, I may be tempted. I have reverchonii in several dryish spots--it's not dazzling, but gets better each year in all of them. You're right, it does like occasional drenchings. But survives the dry spells.

  14. And to think I planted my first KF this fall in So. Calif! What a great discussion, including input from Lauren. Grasses are so vast, that we need a guide to cut to the chase. I'm also trying a muhly from Mexico, M. pubescens, grown by Native Sons. So many grasses last forever in SoCal without summer rain smashing them down, but they're relatively rare in use.

  15. Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the fantasti c lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates.


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