'A grass for every location': Ornamental grasses taking off in Island gardens
'With all the wind that's here on the Island, it's really gorgeous just to watch them catch it'
Garth Davey's garden in Kildare Capes, P.E.I. is full of ornamental grasses.
"There are so many different shapes and colours of them and when they all go together it's just an amazing show."
Davey, a licensed horticulturist who works at Kool Breeze Farms in Summerside, P.E.I., loves the grasses.
"I find them so sensual and so tactile," he said.
"With all the wind that's here on the Island, it's really gorgeous just to watch them catch it."
More natural landscape
Davey first started planting ornamental grasses while living in Ontario more than 25 years ago.
The selection at the time was fairly limited. Now he has 16 varieties of ornamental grasses that he sells.
"I just think people have made a shift to a more natural looking landscape," said Davey. He's also a Prince County judge for the P.E.I. Rural Beautification Society and a director on the Tignish Communities in Bloom Society.
"There's a grass for every location and because they are so low maintenance, a lot of people really like them."
'Easy to grow'
The key to growing grasses on P.E.I., says Davey, is adding some lime to the soil to bring it to neutral.
When the clumps get large and die off in the middle, he recommends cutting them up and re-arranging them.
And his favourite tool in the garden for splitting clumps of grasses? A reciprocating saw.
"Really they're quite easy to grow," he said.
For someone just getting started in grasses, he suggests Karl Foerster.
"It's very perpendicular, I always describe it as looking like a Mountie in the garden," said Davey.
He also likes the Miscanthus, which are also called maiden or silver grasses.
"It has great height with feathery plumes," said Davey.
"They're a later season grass but wow, they're a mainstay in the garden for September and October."
He also recommends perennial fountain grasses along walkways that people like to reach out and touch as they pass them.
Islanders are catching on to ornamental grasses, says Davey.
"A lot more and I think as they have seen them introduced in landscape and they're interested in trying out in their own garden," he said.
"Because there are so many different heights and colours of the grasses
The grasses range in price from $8.99 to $14.99 at Kool Breeze Farms.
There are also some annual grasses. A popular one this year is fibre optic, because it looks like fibre optic cable, with a silvery ball flower.
Patience is key
Davey also suggests gardeners need to be patient with grasses, as they do with all perennials.
"In the first year, they sleep, in the second year, they creep but the third year, they leap," he said.
He hopes to see even more Islanders planting the fancy grasses this season.
"They are so gorgeous with things like sedums, and daisies and salvias," said Davey.
"You can get a wonderful look that's kind of natural."
Love of grass
Paulette Phelan Kelly and her husband Donnie have been sharing their love of ornamental grasses for more than a decade.
They operate Lovegrass Farm in Dunstaffnage, P.E.I.
The Kellys have been growing grasses for two decades.
"Many of our customers are people that move to the Island from Ontario and B.C. and they see it a lot more in the landscape there," said Phelan Kelly.
Lots of different types
"Everybody likes a different type of grass."
She recommends panicum grasses which have lovely seed heads ideal for sandy soils and some salt tolerance.
Purpurascens has beautiful fall colour and is sometimes called flames grass.
"They're pretty low maintenance, all we really do is cut them back in the spring, to a few inches above the ground," said Kelly.
"I'd like to see more people using them in their home landscape and we'd like to see more on cottage lots as well."
She'd also like to see more ornamental grasses in public spaces.
"I know we have one grass in particular blue green moor grass that would be ideal for traffic circles," she said.
"It's used in Denmark for that purpose because it's really salt tolerant and it's a short grass that wouldn't give any issue of sight."
'Rustle in the wind'
The grasses at Lovegrass Farm are sold bare root, not potted, a gallon size clump for $5.
Kelly thinks Islanders will fall in love with ornamental grasses if they give them a chance.
"A lot of the leaves will rustle in the wind," she said.
"And they're very tough, like I've watched in our garden, a wind storm one August and they just get swept down with the wind and they just swing back up again."