These Beautiful, Low-Maintenance Plants Bring Movement to the Garden by Blowing in the Breeze – East Bay Times


It would take many lifetimes to exhaust all possibilities of plant selection and design options for our gardens. Take kinetic plants, for example. These are species that sway in the wind or even in a light breeze. They include ornamental grasses, sedges and rushes. Butterfly bushes (Buddleja spp.) and wand flowers (Gaura/Oenothera linheimeri) also possess this quality. Many are extremely drought tolerant while others can live beside a pond and yet planted in the garden may only need occasional watering in the summer.

San Marcos Growers alone lists 91 different types of ornamental grasses and Monrovia Nursery lists 156 options ( under what they generally classify as grasses. The reason for Monrovia’s longer list is that bamboos, which are part of the grass family, and sedges and rushes which are not grasses but resemble them in some respects, make the Monrovia list, as do mondo and liriope, which actually belong to the grass family. lily family.

Cape rush Chondropetalum elephantinium (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

There is a common denominator to the various groups of plants on the Monrovia list referenced above. They are all monocotyledons. Flowering plants or angiosperms are divided into dicots and monocots. Dicots have two seed leaves or cotyledons and monocots have one. The two halves of a kidney bean are called seed leaves, the first “leaves” to show when the seed germinates. A corn kernel, on the other hand, or a palm seed, when planted, reveals a single thin seed leaf upon germination. You might think monocots would be a more primitive life form than dicots. After all, isn’t a rose, a remarkable dicot, a more complex flower than a cornflower, whether it’s a male acorn or a female silk? And don’t we usually associate complexity with more advanced evolutionary plants and animals? This was the accepted theory regarding which came first – the monocot or the dicot – until the end of the 19th century.

For more than a century, however, the dominant theory that has emerged on this subject holds that the monocots evolved from the dicots. More recently, DNA sequencing has given this theory greater credence. Moreover, in terms of resilience and perseverance, qualities that determine physical fitness and therefore a more advanced and sophisticated development in terms of evolution, monocots surpass dicots. Grasses are found on 20% of the earth’s landmass, mostly in areas where nothing else will grow. Having only one cotyledon, the embryo—which consists of a rudimentary root and first true leaf—of a monocot derives all its sustenance from a single source, while a dicot embryo must have two cotyledons. fully functional to support its embryonic growth. Monocots such as grasses also grow rapidly and form flowers quickly, while many broadleaf weeds must first produce wood and can grow for several years before flowering. Monocots are also hardier than dicots because they show a greater ability to regrow after being burned or grazed, in addition to being resistant to disease and insect pests. I I have to say, having observed a wide variety of ornamental grasses for decades, I have never noticed any signs of disease or insect damage among them.

Coming back to Kinetic Plants, I decided to write about them after receiving the following email from Donna Pullman, a gardener at Seal Beach. “I live a bit close to the beach and I have a spot near the sidewalk to plant in front of a picket fence. I really need to simplify my life with low maintenance plants. I would like something that can blow in the breeze and have movement. I love Mexican feather grass, but I think it might not be good for our environment. Thanks for any advice.

I remember the first time I saw Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) years ago and recognized it as one of the most beautiful plants under the sun. It is a clumping grass with delicate green braids that turn blond then golden fawn as they mature. Plus, Mexican Feathergrass self-sows eagerly and will soon take over a sidewalk planter, needing minimal moisture to thrive, not to mention its swaying back and forth in the softest breeze.

The problem with Mexican feather grass, as Ms. Pullman suggests, is that it knows no boundaries. Within a few years, it could easily invade your garden and adjacent gardens in your neighborhood and eventually spread into the surrounding hills and canyons, choking out the native flora. Most nurseries no longer sell this plant due to its invasive tendencies.

Also, when it comes to low maintenance plants, I wouldn’t necessarily place ornamental grasses in that category. Besides the fact that some of them spread, if not as wildly as Mexican feather grass, even many more docile grasses need to be manicured once a year so they don’t look ragged. For example, the popular burgundy fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum var. rubrum), which is sterile and does not self-seed, is recommended to be pruned once a year. The pruning procedure can be done anytime from late fall to early spring. Trim so that a third of each clump remains. If you cut too far, they may not grow back. Once the clump begins to produce new shoots, you can divide it and plant the divisions in other parts of the garden. Be sure to divide when plants are actively growing and before winter arrives. Otherwise, your divisions could languish and even die after being transplanted.

Incidentally, there is an ornamental grass that seeds itself but not so aggressively and is sometimes suggested as a lawn substitute. The species in question is blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). There are two types of lawn substitutes, which by definition are drought tolerant: those that function like lawns, meaning they can accept foot traffic to one degree or another, and those that cover simply the space that a lawn would otherwise occupy. . Blue oat grass is of the second type. I once planted it and watched it slowly but surely take over a space that was once a lawn but had since been turned into perennial beds. I removed most of it, but I can vouch for its charms. It does not require annual pruning like fountain grass to keep its fresh face and fountain shape.

If you decide to go with grasses, you can contrast burgundy fountain grass with blue oat grass, blue tares (Leymus arenarius ‘Glaucus’) or blue moor grass (Sesleria caerulea). Variegated grasses are also popular, with white and yellow striped zebra grasses (Miscanthus varieties) and variegated reed (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’) leading the way.

Two pink flowering grasses come to mind and they would also contrast nicely with the blue and burgundy species mentioned above. One of these is widely considered to have the finest flower tassels of all ornamental grasses. Known as ruby ​​grass (Melinus nerviglumis), it blooms in the hottest summers when it displays mesmerizing pink inflorescences that turn to a lovely burgundy bronze. Photos never do ruby ​​grass justice, giving only a small measure of its essential beauty. Pink hair or pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is quite capable of surviving a drought, although it looks best when soaked occasionally as it turns into a fluffy cloud of pink.

Then there are the obviously kinetic rushes, including the California gray rush (Juncus patens), with strong cylindrical stems up to two feet tall. My favorite bulrush, originally from South Africa, has a characteristic that I know of is not found on any other plant. The brown bands on its cylindrical stems turn gold inside before breaking off; it’s like watching strips of 22k gold leaf peel off every time you walk past the plant. Eventually, pretty brown flowers form on the tips of the stems. This plant is called cape rush and comes in two sizes, one with three foot stems (Chondropetalum tectorum) and one with stems reaching up to five feet or more (Chondropetalum elephatinum). Ornamental grasses and rushes make excellent potted specimens.

As mentioned earlier, butterfly bush is a kinetic plant, and very desirable, especially now that its clusters of lilac or purple flowers stretch to a length of 12 inches or more. You’ll never have to prune it, but for larger flower clusters and a more compact plant, you’ll want to prune it back two-thirds occasionally; just before the start of the growing season is the time to do this. Wandflower, also called gaura or swirling butterflies, sends up two-foot shoots studded with white or magenta-pink flowers throughout the summer.

If you have had success with a Kinetic Plant (or plants), please share your story by sending it to the email address below. You are welcome to send questions, comments or photos to [email protected]


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