what grasses look good together?

philosopher(Zone 5a WI)June 25, 2006

Hi all--

I have a 20 foot privacy fence that runs parallel to our driveway. I'd like to plant some grasses in a long row in the space between the privacy fence and the driveway. Since my front garden is sort of a hodgepodge of groundcovers and low-growing perennials, I'd like to keep with that informal look and do a mix of grasses, rather than a row of a single variety. But...I don't want it to look too much "seat-of-the-pants" casual; I'd like it to have some logic behind my design.

My question for you all is: What grasses look particularly good together? OR--is this just a plain old bad idea--i.e., stick with a single variety? (I have been known to spend beaucoup $$$ on plants, only to rip them out and give them to my sister & friends, so I know I have the potential to have some stunningly bad ideas.)

I'm in Wisconsin, so I'd like to stick with plants that are in zone 4-5 range at best.

Thanks for any ideas!


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How deep is the space between the fence and driveway?

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 6:28AM
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philosopher(Zone 5a WI)

About two feet. Pretty narrow. Which is why I am trying to include a variety; I don't want the visual impression of "soliders standing at attention."

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 10:08AM
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Well, you'll be limited in your choices. Virtually any taller grass, like over 2' tall, will overhang the driveway by a good deal if it is properly stood off the fence. If you plant a grass that matures to 2' in diameter, it must be at least 1' off the fence in order to mature properly. Most ornamental grasses are wider at the top than at the bottom, and a plant with a 1' diameter crown at the base could easily be 3-4' in diameter at the top. It's the diameter at the top, in bloom, that must be accounted for in both stand-off from the fence and overhang of the driveway. Even if you don't mind the grass's foliage and plumes overhanging the driveway, the strip is so narrow you'll have trouble properly installing any large grasses.

That said, there are lots of small clumping grasses which will fit the space. Look at the smaller cultivars of Festuca, Sesleria, hardy varieties of Carex, like C. plantaginea, Koeleria varieties, Helichtotrichon sempervirens and Eragrostis spectabilis.

For more vertical interest, maybe consider additional plantings in pots, mounted to the fence above the grasses.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 11:25AM
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achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)

I love grasses planted in a row! Several of a single variety look especially good.
You might try planting groups of four or five of the same grass. Then you could change up the height as you get closer to the house. Even just three different grasses would give you a less formal look.
Donn's suggestions are all good. I'm sure you could get away with some taller grasses & I would definitely go with grasses that give you that soft flowing look ~ no stiff soldiers that way.
Grasses that I have used in a similar way.
Any of the Fountain grasses (Pennisetum spp.)
Panicums ~ I have P. virgatum 'Rehbraun' lining a narrow path and it looks great.
Chasmanthium latifolium
Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' & Calamagrostis brachytricha
You might even get away with a single Miscanthus cultivar at the top. Look for one that has a stiffer more upright form like Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus' This you might have to divide every couple of years to keep it in bounds.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2006 at 6:59AM
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