Finally, a grass! A garden without ornamental grasses of some kind borders on sinful–who can really resist the temptation of soft, curving, graceful lines waving in the wind? In a world of fuzzy plumes, sharp spikes, and dangling pendants, grasses rule the stage, the main characters of a multi-season show.
On that list of grasses I couldn’t garden without, and it’s a mighty long list, somewhere near the top is Koeleria macrantha with a footnote that says ‘including all other Koeleria‘. Native throughout most of North America, you probably have a patch or clump growing nearby, sulking in obscurity until some agent (you) sends them to fame. Known commonly as prairie junegrass, the variation found across that range is just the sort to send a horticulturist with ecological bearings (like yours truly) nuts with excitement. The form I grow in my garden has bluer foliage than most, though even the most typical forms have remarkably clean-colored leaves. From caespitose clumps in late spring and throughout summer (depending on the provenance), the flower heads erupt like sky bound fireworks, lessons in the beauty of tawny and tan. I simply couldn’t envision a scree garden without them.
Perhaps my greatest excitement with this species wasn’t in my own garden, but in the wild lands we perused this summer in South Dakota, coming across meadows that looked like seas of this species minus occasional islands of rock. The photo below shows a specimen that in reflection looks quite remarkable, though I’m sure there were better. In masses of millions, the chances of finding ‘the one’ improves significantly, if only you have the time to look.
On a final note, this species is remarkably unavailable in the trade, beyond the commercial seed suppliers who raise most of their crop for ecological restorations, etc. If you have a greenhouse or means of propagating from seed, it’s not hard work at all. If you think this deserves a place in your garden, post a comment. Let’s see how many of you agree!