Landscape front of house with grasses - thoughts?

mkeister(Z6 NYLong Islnd)October 19, 2005

Greetings all!

We have just pulled out some enormous ugly evergreen bushes from the front of our house. And now the good part! I am really keen on planting some beautiful ornamental grasses in the front - I love the way they look, their low maintenance, and how they change through the seasons. Would anyone care to make some recommendations or give me some advice?

1. I am in Zone 6

2. The beds are about a) 5 x 5 next to the garage, b) 7 x 5 near the driveway, and c) 12 x 5 along the house

3. I'd like the grass not to cover the windows

I will attach a link to pic of our house! Thanks in advance for your learned advice! Blessings to you and yours,


Here is a link that might be useful:

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Mel - What's the sun exposure of the beds? How much direct sun each day?

    Bookmark   October 19, 2005 at 11:29AM
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mkeister(Z6 NYLong Islnd)

Oh, right! Well, almost all day is full sun. On the right side, there is late afternoon shade. Thanks!

    Bookmark   October 19, 2005 at 11:33AM
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You've got tons of choices with that much sun.

Think about a big tall Miscanthus in the garage corner bed, but be sure to route the downspout away from the bed. Situate it back in the bed and outboard of the house, so it doesn't spill over the driveway, and maybe edge the bed with small contrasting grasses, like Blue Fescue or Blue Moor Grass.

I'd probably do a similar tall grass on the other corner, maybe a duplicate of the first one.

I'd probably flank the picture window with two very erect grasses, and plan them to have their plumes come halfway up the sides of the bay. Lots of choices here. Miscanthus, Panicum, Feather Reed Grass, and others. Fill in under the bay, and in the front of the bed with smaller edgers; Fescues, Moors, Carex, Feather Grass, etc.. I'd also probably throw in a couple of nice big rocks.

I'd use the same approach on the other side of the porch. Flank the window with tall grasses and fill in under with the same smaller ones.

If your beds are only 5' deep, you'll be limited in how much layering you can do in front of the house. You'll have to plant the larger grasses at least 2' off the house, and take their mature diameter into account.

PS..I'd also probably hang a couple of planters on the outside of the railing, at the angled part by the steps, and fill them with something showy like Mexican Feather Grass (marginally hardy in your zone) or annual grasses like Bunny Tails.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2005 at 12:01PM
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mkeister(Z6 NYLong Islnd)

Omigah! I think I love you! Thank you so much for your help! Your ideas are great!

    Bookmark   October 19, 2005 at 4:52PM
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Donn has made some great suggestions and I will add only a few other ideas on specific Miscanthus etc.

This year, in watching the performance of my own grasses (and taking into consideration your Zone) I'd suggest Miscanthus sinensis 'Graziella' as a tallish Miscanthus option. It should top out near 6' and is a really attractive upright/arching grass. It flowers earlier than things like 'Gracillimus' or 'Morning light' that would not be likely to flower at all for you. Feather Reed grass is excellent, but give it air circulation or wet spring/humid summer may lead to rust issues.

Panicums are superb as well and I wholeheartedly support their suggested use in your plan. Finally, I couldn't agree more that a couple boulders would look terrific in this scene. They juxtapose so well with grasses. Can you have a couple big granite rocks brought in? You will not regret this decision.

Have fun.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2005 at 8:08PM
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I live in Madison, Wi, (4a-b)...Yesterday I visited a botancal garden which had an excellent display of perennials, with mature growths of Autumn Light, Goliath, Morning Light, Floridus, Blondo, Gigantus, Porcupine, and Kline Silberspin, amongst many others. I am looking for tall varieties, all of which had flowered and were absolutely spectacular. I was really impressed with the beauty of these plants, this is such a great time of year to see what they become after a full season of growth. They featured Bondo in the entryway to the main gardens, which is about 4' tall and it was awesome, and very well flowered also....I believe the fact that they fertilize, water regularly, and mulch heavily, has alot to do with these 7-8 year old miscanthuses looking so good.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2005 at 10:39PM
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If 7-8 year old Miscanthus looked that good i'll bet that they did water them from time to time and perhaps a slow release fert. early in the season, but the relative apathy of these grasses to regular water and fertilizer is part of what makes them special I think.

Periodic division and replant of the healthiest segments will keep them looking incredible as well.

In my last post on the planting scheme for the small beds in front of the house I neglected to suggest some tall perennials to go with the rocks and grasses. Penstemon is high on my list right now for its incredibly long bloom period -- especially some of the darker red or purple varieties like 'Garnet' and 'Raven.' Helenium is another excellent tall, long blooming choice to work into a grass planting. And never forget the incredible beauty of Pennesetum alopecuroides if it is hardy in your zone.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2005 at 12:02AM
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Hey, don't discount my favorite Gracillimus for a northern area. We are in Z5b, and always have excellent flowering on Gracillimus, and Morning Light. It has been in flower here for about 3 weeks or so, and the flowers are still pink, where most of the others have turned to white. I plan for the early flowering ones, and then the late ones like Gracillimus. I think it needs to be much further north to not get good bloom.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2005 at 10:45AM
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jake(z4b-5 NE)

Without pictures I find it tough trying to suggest any plants for the front of the house. The front of the house is an introductory statement of you and your family.

As much as I like ornamental grasses I feel they should be used sparingly in the front. As your post states you removed conifers that stayed green all year and covered the front of your house.

With OG's the front skirt around your house will be gone for a period longer than you might realize. Your foundation will be exposed. Are you prepared for this different look?

Should you decide to go with OG's then plant perennials or early blooming annuals to stave off the naked foundation in the spring early summer season. You won't regret this.

Think about the rocks / boulders sitting there with no plants to soften their look or add interest to their feature.

Plant a few OG's more for accent than for substance. Maybe a small bed of OG's away from the house. Did this in a landscape for a client and she has gotten more compliments.

Of course she has a nack of growing many things and some of her additions to the "plan" has been more than beneficial.


    Bookmark   October 23, 2005 at 11:33AM
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luvahydrangea(Albany, NY 5)

Mel, cute house. I'm also on Long Island and do use grasses in my front garden. Like you, when I bought this house I ripped out all the evergreen shrubs in the front of my house (mostly overgrown yews). From my experience, I have to say, I agree with Jake about using OG's sparingly in the front.

Its been tough, for me anyway, having the foundation of my house be so visible in the winter and spring as my decidious shrubs and grasses sloooooooowly come into their own. This fall, I've put in a few boxwoods to ground the landscape and will likely be adding a Bird's Nest Spruce(Picea abies 'Nidiformis') in the spring.

Anyway, I'm a huge fan of using OG's, but I'm using them more as accents and for texture. Of course, OG's are easy to move, so you can always experiment and if you're not happy with the way something turns out, you can always move it and add some evergreens later.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2005 at 6:02AM
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Mozart2(Zone 5 Michigan)


Well, the first thing that I would recommend is to read Eleanor Perenyi's book: "Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden." It is still - by far - the best garden book ever written. Read the chapter on "Failure" and take heed.

This book should be available at or through your local public library - either on the shelf or through their interlibrary loan system. It would be better to have this book added to your own personal library.

As for the 'value' of this book, I'd also recommend that you read the reviews of this book at Here's the link:

Copies of this book in used, but excellent to fine condition can also be found at either of the two sites below.


The second recommended book is the "Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses: Sedges, Rushes, Restios, Cat-Tails, and Selected Bamboos" by Rick Darke, who also wrote "The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest."

In addition to the sources noted above, you may sometimes find this and other excellent books at or at overstock.

A more condensed, but very excellent version of his "Color Encyclopedia" is "The Timber Press Pocket Guide to Ornamental Grasses" also authored by Rick Darke as well.

I have his "American Woodland" garden in my own personal library and will soon add the "Timber Press Pocket Guide".

Hope this information is more than useful in your gardening endeavors.


    Bookmark   October 25, 2005 at 9:05PM
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