Contributed by Ginny Oakes

On November 13, 2016

My pick of the bunch

Thank you to the members who brought contributions for the display at our last meeting. There was a lot of interest and it really is a lovely feature of our meetings. I have selected two, both grasses, to tell you a little more about.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ghana’ There are a great many miscanthus cultivars available with more appearing all the time. Some are very big plants growing up to 2.5 m but the latest trend seems to be for smaller ones at about 1.2 to 1.5 m – I saw several of these at the Great Dixter Plant Fair this year. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ghana’ grows to about 1.8 m, has a narrow, upright habit but is quite undistinguished during the summer. It’s in the autumn that it comes into its own when the foliage takes on glorious red colours. I haven’t had mine long enough to know whether it colours up every year but this year, along with every tree and shrub in the land, it has been stunning. The Royal Horticultural Society has awarded it an AGM. It’s available from quite a few nurseries, including one of our members so maybe we’ll see it in the plant sale at the next meeting!
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ghana’
Sorghastrum nutans ‘Sioux Blue’ Our thanks to Jeanette Lerwill who brought some stems of this grass. I thought it looked fabulous. I grow quite a few grasses – I have miscanthus, calamagrostis, eragrostis, stipa, festuca, bouteloua, muhlenbergia, ampelodesmos, hordeum, elymus, melinis, oryzopsis, arundo, pennisetum and I even have a poa . But sorghastrum has somehow passed me by. I wonder why. Perhaps it’s unusual or even rare or it could be no one grows it because it’s a weedy thug. Rick Darke describes Sorghastrum nutans as ‘One of the most beautiful and characteristic grasses of the once-vast North American tallgrass prairie.’ It has a wide native range and varies in height and colour across that range. It is easy to grow on a wide range of soils, including heavy clay, is best in full sun and is drought tolerant once established. It requires little maintenance other than an annual cut back. What’s not to like? Maybe the next bit – self sows prolifically!  
Several seed cultivars have been developed for animal forage. ‘Sioux Blue’ is a clonal cultivar selected and named by Rick Darke from a seedling of one of these after extensive evaluation in Longwood Gardens’ research nursery. It was chosen for its powder-blue foliage and erect form. When grown in full sun, it remains upright throughout the growing season and most of the winter. Its leaves are 12mm wide and flowering stems to 2m.
If you’re in the habit of naming your plants, please call yours Bill or George…anything but Sioux! A plea from a nursery in the US!

Roger Grounds says it ‘was selected not only for its remarkable blueness, which gradually becomes stained rich purple as the nights cool after midsummer, but also for its stiff, upright habit. It is a warm season clumper that will grow 75cm in leaf, with quite dense branching panicles of a rich reddish tan bespangled with golden anthers reaching up to 90cm.’ He actually grew it in this country so perhaps that is nearer the size we should expect. He recommends it for a dry garden and a desert garden, although I suspect that’s more for the colour and look than that it needs desert conditions. Given moisture it will probably grow taller but in all the descriptions full sun seems to be the major requirement. I would love to try it. The only trouble is I can’t find a nursery that stocks it in the UK. Jeanette bought hers at Great Dixter but it’s not on their list now. Does anyone else grow it? Is it gorgeous or ghastly? Post a comment below and let us know your experience.
Here is part of the display at the October meeting. Our next one is at the end of November by which time, when winter is really beginning to set in, we’ll be in need of something to cheer us up. So look round your garden and see if you can find something to cut and bring along to brighten the day.
I obtained the references and information from The Colour Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses by Rick Darke and The Plantfinder’s Guide to Ornamental Grasses by Roger Grounds.


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