New grasses for autumn planters

Ornamental grasses have been a staple of transition from summer to autumn.

New grasses for autumn planters

Autumn means different things to different people.

To some, it is the beginning of the dreaded spider season, when hopeful (or sinister, depending on your arachnid sympathies) cobwebs are strewn everywhere in the garden.

Others, like me, look forward to the cooler weather, which brings many good things like the harvest from our vegetable gardens, the fiery fall foliage colours and a foreseeable end to cutting the lawn.

Another seasonal task is transitioning our containers from summer bedding and frost-tender plants to those that provide winter colour and tolerate the colder weather.

Ornamental grasses have been a staple of this transition with Carex ‘Evergold’, Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’), Carex buchananii and the pumpkin orange foliage of Carex testacea being just a few favoured choices.

Ornamental grass breeders have taken notice and are busy pumping out a plethora of new cultivars in order to provide a little more variety.

Prominent among these is FitzGerald Nurseries of Ireland. Its spectacular Evercolour Series of Carex oshimensis cultivars are just taking centre stage now.

Ironically this series began with a birthday gift of 200 nine-centimetre Carex ‘Evergold’ given to Pat FitzGerald by his then girlfriend, now wife (proving that food isn’t the only way into a man’s heart).

It eventually became a regular crop for the nursery, until Pat started paying close attention to the beautiful sports or foliage mutations.

That attention to detail has resulted in the eye-catching Evercolour Series, which includes ‘Everest’ (pure white variegation’), ‘Everlime’ (lime green variegation), ‘Everillo’ (lime green to gold foliage), ‘Everoro’ (a much-improved ‘Evergold’) and ‘Everdi’ (pure green).

All are reliably hardy in coastal British Columbia and have an arching growth habit that looks quite elegant in container plantings.

Although not necessarily new, Liriope muscari ‘Monroe White’ can be a rare find, even though its evergreen foliage and large pure white late summer to fall flowers fit right into the autumn transition.

Other notable Lily Turfs with contrasting variegated foliage include ‘Silver Dragon’ (white variegation, pale lavender flowers), ‘Variegata’ (cream margins, violet-blue flowers) and ‘Silvery Sunproof’ (yellow to cream margins, lilac flowers).

The silver highlights of Blue Fescue Grass (Festuca glauca) are often overlooked for fall planters because the color is difficult to pair with the typical autumn hues of orange, red and yellows.

That said, there is nothing stopping you from going in a completely different direction, such as pairing it with a bright rose-pink Bud Bloomer heather (Calluna vulgaris) and Sedum ‘Angelina’ for a little pop – sure, these are not exactly your typical autumn tones, but the colour will last you right up to Christmas, unlike those asters, fall chrysanthemums and bright orange Chinese Lanterns (Physalis), which are faded and looking a bit tatty in a matter of weeks.

The other benefit of Blue Fescue Grass (including the newer introduction ‘Blue Glow’) is that they are often available in nine-centimetre pots, making them ideal for smaller containers.

Just to show you how hypocritical I can be at times, I am going to make my last suggestion an herbaceous (but hardy) grass that won’t last for months but is in such spectacular autumn form that it deserves a place by your front door. Panicum virgatum ‘Little Red Gem’ is a compact switch grass that shifts from bluish green to a rich burgundy-red in the fall. It tops this off with tiny wine-coloured flowers that sit just above the foliage, making it the perfect container centrepiece.

To view all of these new ornamental grasses in more detail, visit


Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author.