It’s got texture and shape and it looks wonderful in just about any garden. When clients ask us about planting ornamental grasses, one of the first plants we look at is Miscanthus.
Of course, that’s a bit like saying “one of the trees we look at is the willow.” Both Mischanthus and Willow are terms that cover an incredible array of species and cultivars – you could, theoretically, create a diverse and interesting landscape using just those two plant types.
There are at least 17 different species of Miscanthus in the wild. Most of them are native to Asia but there are a few that are native to Africa or the Philippines.
Some of the species have been adapted to commercial use – Miscanthus giganteus can grow 3.5 metres in a single season, and is grown in Europe for biofuels like ethanol. It’s even being trialed as a green building material.
The species that landscapers love is Miscanthus sinensis. In Japan, where it is a native plant known as Susuki, the tall grass with purple flowers followed by silvery seed heads waving in the breeze is considered one of the seven essential flowers of autumn. It’s been used for ornamental gardening there since at least the 16th century. (It has also been used for centuries to make paper, and to thatch roofs on traditional houses.)
Modern plant breeders being what they are, they have created dozens of cultivars of Miscanthus, which is also sometimes known as Maiden Grass or Japanese Silver Grass. Each cultivar has particular uses, which landscapers can tap into depending on what we want to achieve.
There are six which we’ve found do particularly well in Muskoka: Gracillimus, Cabaret, Morning Light, Sarabande, Silberfeder, and Variegatus.
All of these combine visual appeal with good manners: they grow quickly and last for years, but generally stay where we plant them, rather than expanding and taking over a bed. This can be a real problem farther south – in some parts of the US, Miscanthus is considered an invasive species. All those lovely seed heads contain thousands of seeds, which can help the plant spread rapidly.
In our zone 3-4 climate, though, very few of the seeds from the cultivars we use are viable, meaning we can plant without worry.
The cultivars we use give us a number of different shapes, heights and colour hues to work with. Most cultivars prefer full sun and moist soils, but some are tolerant of drier conditions or partial shade.
We’ve used Miscanthus along the back of garden beds, to establish a tall screen against which perennial flowers will shine. We’ll sometimes use an individual or two in a bed to give a tall, dramatic focal point.
We’ll also reach for Miscanthus when designing a garden that needs to have winter appeal – the stems are strong and will remain upright even as the snow falls on them, providing a lovely reminder of summer when you visit the cottage in December.
And to top it all off, Miscanthus is highly resistant to diseases and pests – deer don’t seem to care for it – but attractive to birds.
If you’re interested in seeing some more of this lovely and versatile plant, let us know. We’re happy to talk about ways it can be incorporated into your cottage landscape.