It took me awhile, but I'm beginning what could be a lifelong love affair with grasses. For years I disliked them, but I was seeing grasses that were mishandled by gardeners who sheared them till they bristled like five o'clock stubble, or whacked them down to what looked like a garden version of a bad hair day.
When I was introduced to grasses, as used by Dutch garden designer and nurseryman Piet Oudolf (www.oudolf.com), well, I guess you could say I had an epiphany. No clumps of stubble for Oudolf; in his gardens the grasses give the landscapes an airy, naturalistic feeling and grace, such as only grasses can do.
Grasses in your landscape can be as evocative and sensual as good poetry, and they're Mother Nature's version of great kinetic sculpture. Their stems, spikelets and seed heads capture light, and the grasses shimmer, shine, and flash in the changing lights and moods of a day and night. The sounds? They clatter, rattle, whisper, shush, and rustle like taffeta skirts. Grasses have beauty, grace, movement, sound and tactile surfaces, and some even emit a sweet or pungent scent -- a great roundup of the five senses.
So now, as a recent convert I'm designing a meandering stream of blue-gray grasses to run down and through my perennial butterfly garden. Out by the street I'll use them to highlight native salvias and manzanitas. In my biggest terra-cotta containers, they'll become focal points. Maybe someday I'll even use them in my hoped-for garden shed with a living green roof.
Give grasses a try. They're drought tolerant, gorgeous, not a favorite of deer, and they could just give your garden the quirky face-lift you've been looking for. And who doesn't need a lifelong love affair?