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Appeals and Advantages
of Ornamental Grasses


The Annual Cycle
of Grasses


Cautions Regarding
Catalogs, Tags, and Books


Our Selections - The
Ones We Grow & Why


Planting, watering, etc.

How We Operate &
How to Contact/Visit Us

WillowMist
123 Union Road
Stratham, NH 03885
603-944-3496
grasses@willowmist.com


Our Selections 

Even the largest growers have to choose a manageable number of grasses to grow, out of the hundreds of possible varieties. As a small family farm, we've chosen to specialize in the most broadly appealing varieties, and then to select from within those categories a versatile mix of the very best ones for northern New England.

We grow everything in the field, so that our plants are all proven in the ground for 2 years or more, and we therefore also have much larger sizes available than most nurseries.

Since 1999, we've been painstakingly refining and changing our mix of grasses through our local growing experience. The result is a carefully limited selection of very beautiful grasses that:

  • Are hardy and bloom well here with minimum care
  • Very rarely (if ever) spread where you don't want them
  • Adapt well to a wide variety of even poor soils
  • Require no staking, usually staying erect even in cooler years
  • Complement one other aesthetically
  • Will be visually rewarding right through the winter

Most grow faster and perhaps larger in full sun, but will be healthy and attractive in part-time shade. (3-4 hours of full sun per day are usually enough.)

After the first winter in the ground, most require little to no supplemental watering, and are very drought-tolerant.

They are virtually immune to insect, disease, and wildlife damage, and prefer NOT to be fertilized. Most tolerate wet soils and salt.

"Silver Grasses" (Miscanthus)

The Miscanthus are often called the "Royal Family" of Grasses. Their iridescent tassel-like flowers dramatically transform a landscape, swaying and whispering in every breeze.

 

If you want to start with just one spectacular grass, a Silver Grass will usually be your best choice.

While there are relatively minor differences among these that create slightly different "personalities," all put out lovely shimmering blooms, have mature heights of 4-7', and present a variety of wonderful fall colors.

Cut flowers last very well in water and dry effortlessly indoors into wonderfully lacy forms that last years.

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Adagio

Our smallest variety, Adagio offers all of the best characteristics of Silver Grasses in a somewhat smaller package (typically 3-4', or a little larger). Technically a "dwarf" variety, Adagio can still become about 50+" in height, with a wonderfully rounded form, and foliage draping gracefully down to the ground. Zone 5, though a shade less hardy than our best. (In January 2004, with wind chills at 25 degrees below zero and no snow cover, some plants suffered partial kill. All survived, however, and came back well.)

Teresa's all-time favorite grass.

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Autumn Light

A classic Miscanthus that blooms later in the season (September) to bring a fall burst of pleasure to the landscape. Classic green foliage and upright shape, with bountiful flowers, but a later bloomer. Great addition for a late-season splash, it opens quite red when all the others have matured well into their fuzzy silver stage. Zone 4.

 

 

 

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Graziella

Pronounced "Grotz-ee-ELL-a."

As the name suggests, a graceful and delicate grass, somewhat less dominating than its largest cousins - but a classic favorite, with fine foliage and lovely blooms (a little more "honey-blonde" than reddish), with plumes tending to form more in the wind than most - often ending up charmingly facing in one direction by the fall. A great blend of fine foliage, abundant blooms, truly vibrant fall color and moderate height - between 5 and 6'. Zone 5 or better. A truly gorgeous and real charmer.

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Flame Grass (Miscanthus 'Purpurascens')

One of the earliest Silver Grasses to bloom (important in northern gardens), with quite erect flowers. Always the first to show autumn colors, in brilliant shades of deep reddish-gold and orange - hence the "Flame Grass" name. Becomes a unique coppery orange in mid to late October - well ahead of most other ornamental grasses.

A little shorter than most, at 4-5'+/-. For the early blooming and unique form, almost everyone should include this one in a grasses mix. Very hardy; Zone 4 or better.

Superb when cut and bundled for dried arrangements in the house.

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Huron Sunrise

Classic Miscanthus form with an unsurpassed profusion of blooms. Bred in Canada for extra cold-hardiness. 4-5'. Can become fairly floppy in partial shade as it ages, so is best used in almost full sun. Will bloom profusely no matter what, with very intense color. Zone 4 or better.

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Little Dot

(Puenktchen) Distinguished by its quite red blooms, which hold that initial color longer than most before silvering, Little Dot is an excellent variegated version, with narrow yellow-gold bands across the green leaves.

It is reliably erect, but slightly more relaxed and graceful looking than the larger Strictus. It also blooms 3-4 weeks earlier, and therefore may be a better choice for a variegated grass for inland NH and north. Typically 4-5', but can go taller. Not for small spaces. Zone 4.

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Malepartus

Not that often seen in the nurseries (though often called by experts "the standard against which others are measured"), Malepartus is an absolute favorite here.

Usually among the very first Miscanthus to bloom, in a profusion of iridescent smoky maroon plumes, eventually thrusting its literal canopy of flowers high above the lushly arching base.

Uniquely diverse autumn colors, with the stems usually turning a deep blood red, and a variety of colors in the leaves.

Often also "the last grass standing" after a winter of heavy snow and/or freezing rain. 5-7 ft.; Zone 4+.

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Strictus

Variegated like Little Dot, with wider bands on the foliage and a somewhat broader leaf. Called "Porcupine Grass" for its very spiky and erect form. Opens coppery red, with flowers both above and in the foliage. Will even grow in shallow water (4"+/-).

A little smaller than Zebrinus ("Zebra Grass,") but grown here instead because Zebrinus often "flops" when mature, requiring staking. Strictus was bred specifically as an alternative to Zebrinus, and stands tall in all but the coolest summers. Typically 5-6', but paradoxically often gets to 8' where it gets late afternoon shade. Blooms September-October. Zone 4

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"Maiden" Grasses

Some authors use this term to apply to all Miscanthus sinensis, but we're in the group that reserves the term for the most fine-leaved and densest of the species, which are very similar to each other but quite distinct from all the rest.

"Gracillimus" - Very dense, fine, and deep green foliage, which arches gracefully (though often mightily, at 6-7'), and sighs and whispers deliciously in even a light breeze.

The blooms come quite late, in October usually, and though smaller than some others, they are quite abundant and form wonderfully curly filigrees all over. In very short growing years (when spring comes late and winter early) all of the blooms may not open, but Gracillimus has been prized nonetheless since Victorian times for its wonderful foliage.

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Switch Grasses (Panicum)

Very appealing grasses that bloom in a fine "cloud" of tiny "panicles," for a delightfully delicate but colorful effect. All are very hardy, very drought-tolerant, and grow faster and larger in full sun, but still do well with part shade. Very striking when planted in 3's or more. They're a perfect textural complement to the more exuberant plumes of the Silver Grasses.

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Shenandoah

Increasingly blue-green foliage with reddish panicles for blooms, with the bonus of striking blood-red highlights in the foliage.

Red begins to appear in the foliage in late spring and slowly increases into fall, eventually reaching about 75%.

The deep red tones in Shenandoah are exactly the same as in Pennisetum 'Rubrum' and Japanese Blood Grass, but Shenandoah is hardy here, while the others are not. 4-5'; Zone 4 or better.

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Fountain Grasses (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

There are several very colorful Fountain Grasses that understandably get much attention and praise in print - but that we choose not to grow. The best known is "Rubrum," which is frequently seen in commercial plantings, such as shopping centers and office complexes. There is no doubt that it is spectacularly beautiful, with purplish-red foliage and flowers, but it is essentially an annual here. We therefore leave it to the nurseries with greenhouses. The other is "Moudry," or Black Fountain Grass. Prized for its striking black foxtail blooms, what the books rarely tell you is that Moudry reseeds prolifically in almost any climate and soil condition. If you fail to cut off the flowers before seeds begin to drop, your great-great-grandchildren will still be trying to pull them out of your lawn and gardens.

We therefore offer just three less-spectacularly-colored but very appealing Fountain Grasses. All typically bloom by the end of July.

Largest and most spectacular is Redhead, featuring quite large blooms in great abundance, atop a gracefully rounded mound of relatively wide-leafed green base foliage. Redhead is 4'+ tall in bloom when mature, by about 5' in width.

The mid-sized alopecuroides is about 3' tall, and at least as wide, with a neat mound of arching green base foliage, and stiff foxtail blooms that open a ruddy brown and later turn a creamy or straw color.

The somewhat smaller "Hameln" has virtually identical coloring, but the blooms are a little shorter and bend a little, rather like bunny ears. Hameln often displays some very subtle burgundy highlights in its otherwise green foliage. About 2' tall by 3' wide in bloom.

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