Adopt a Mediterranean Plant: What we’re already learning

A deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) growing in one of the test sites as part of the Adopt-a-Mediterranean-Plant Project
A deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) growing in one of the test sites as part of the Adopt-a-Mediterranean-Plant Project

What’s been interesting to observe already with the Adopt-a-Mediterranean Plant Project is how the water needs of the grasses are really mirroring what we learned with the grasses in the first irrigation-free landscape we ever did. Namely, the grasses seem to always need two waterings spaced about a week apart, and then perhaps a third a couple weeks later, and then they reach a point where they can comfortably be on their own. As their adaptation to drought lies primarily in their roots, and thus these waterings are helping the plants send the roots deep into the soil, we shouldn’t be surprised, but, well, this work is always surprising, as you see first-hand just how little water so many of these plants actually need, even in drier mediterranean climates.

Stay tuned for more updates.

John Kamp

An unfloppable bluestem

little bluestem jazz, prairieform, landscape design, drought-tolerant, grasses

For the landscape work we do in Minneapolis we work within a very limited, cold-weather-mandated plant palatte. Limitations placed on creative work should be seen as opportunities to push envelopes and tackle challenges, not as limitations in and of themselves. In any case, when a new plant does come along that can survive a Minnesota winter and look good in spite of whatever other weather curveball might be thrown at it, we do do a proverbial dance and say, “Hot,” or something like that. So, we’re doing that now, as there’s a new plant to add to the Zone-4-hardy, drought-tolerant-but-not-depressing arsenal of groovy MN-friendly plants. It’s called Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Jazz’ / little bluestem ‘Jazz.’ We love little bluestem for its mid-height vertical featheriness, and its lovely color transformation from fresh green in early summer to blue-green, to red-tinged, to bronze. Our only complaint other than that it does come up late (which is unavoidable as a warm-season grass), is that it has a tendency to flop over later in the year and can get taller than you might want. Enter ‘Jazz,’ a variety that will only grow to 2′ and will not flop over, even as the growing season progresses. Sounds like even a good choice for the front of the border or just behind it. We shall be using it with gusto this year.

The other fall foliage

It’s relatively obvious from our posts that we are sizable fans of ornamental grasses. Part of it is for the muscle they can add to an otherwise too-perennial-heavy landscape, and part of it is for the year-round interest they can provide. Save the short month they disappear when when cut back to the ground in spring, they are pretty much a constant presence in the landscape, including in fall and winter. This is all too important when that flush of summer color fades and the landscape begins to go to sleep; other, muted colors, forms, and shapes need to take the place of green and carry the lansdcape into spring. Our reliable faves include Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ / Karl Foerster feather reed grass, Koeleria macrantha / June Grass, and Schizachyrium scoparium ‘blaze’ / Blaze little bluestem. Be sure and mix cool- and warm-season grasses into your landscape so that you get that early flush of green from the cool ones while the warm ones still sleep.

PRAIRIEFORM on the Fine Gardening site

PRAIRIEFORM landscape featured on the Fine Gardening site

Fine Gardening magazine is currently featuring small-scale residential gardens and landscapes around the country on their blog – and they’ve chosen one of ours for one of their daily slots! You can check out the photos and the project description on their site here. Many thanks to Associate Editor Michelle Gervais for selecting us. Enjoy.

The occasional value of tried but true

Karl Foerster and Overdam grasses backlit in the morning light

Some of the most ubiquitous plants in the American landscape have been used ad nauseum simply out of convention, good marketing, and/or reluctance on the part of the everyday joe to try something different (we won’t name names of plants so as not to offend, and because, yes, to each one’s own). They may be as dull as can be, but people continue to use them endlessly. In any case, certain of these ubiquitous plants are ubiquitous precisely because they are intensely reliable and provide much in the way of visual flare across the seasons. We’ve come full circle with two of them: Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass) and Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ (‘Overdam’ feather reed grass). Initially bored by seeing them everywhere, we have learned to embrace their wonder and reliability. They come up early, offer a fresh shot of color to the landscape; they grow up, send out their seed heads in June, and by July you have both vertical structure and the visual effect of a tidy meadow in the landscape. Their color fades to tawny golds and tans in fall, and their structure holds up once the snow begins to fall. Tried but true, yes, but lovely all the same.