One year on – the Court Garden

April 25, 2020

I say one year, but that is from when I first started planting the new grass garden. Much of this is only eleven months. I took this photo last Saturday, April 25.

May 16, 2019 

May 16, 2019

These photos, taken from either end, are dated May 16, 2019. We still haven’t filled the steps or laid the path surfaces but the plant growth has been phenomenal. New ground – plants love new ground. I expect the rates of growth to slow.

I planted at what I intended to be final spacings and there is only one section that I have put in too closely and will need to reconsider. The rest, I think, will be fine for some time. Mark would like more flowers so I am working in a bit more colour as I find plants that I think will be able to compete. The giant Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) which the bees and monarch butterflies love is the next to move in.

I was worried that I had too much Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ until I took a closer look this morning. There are only four waves across the whole garden and I don’t think that is too much. It is just that it is very dominant at this time of the year. It is a brilliant tall grass and only throws up a few unwanted seedlings.

Big miscanthus flopping after only 10 months 

All it took was three lengths of jute string to restore order and form

A friend gave me a larger growing form of miscanthus, similarly variegated but with a wider leaf. It was too large for her and fell apart too readily. It is an excellent looker but I worried when even the fresh divisions started to fall apart and flop onto the paths as early as January. I don’t want plants that I have to dig and divide every year. The solution was simple. I tied a string around each clump, just a length of anonymous jute string that is not visible. A five minute job solved the problem.

I would like more large grasses for variety but have failed to source additional options so far. They are obviously not that popular in this country. I looked at Miscanthus ‘Zebrinus’ which is available and rejected it. The variegation looks too much like spray damage to me.

For those of you who are interested in grasses, I offer this update on performance of others I have used:

Chionochloa rubra (our native red tussock) is brilliant. My favourite grass of all. It needs space around each plant so that its attractive fountaining habit can be admired.

Chionochloa flavicans is often described as a miniature toetoe though it is a different family. I had a lot of trouble getting plants large enough to survive sustained attack from rabbits. Mark has shot 34 of those cursed bunnies so far this summer and most of the plants are now large enough to withstand future attacks. If you can control the munchers, it does indeed look like a small toetoe in flower though it is pretty anonymous in leaf and form.

Proper toetoe are now classified as austroderia and I think it is A.fulvida that I sourced through Trade Me – the only three plants I had to buy for this whole new garden. They have grown ten fold since I planted them but that is fine because I gave them space. I am looking forward to their flowering next year.

Stipa gigantea (Golden Oats) – an attractive enough grey-green, fine-leafed grass but the main appeal is their ethereal, large flower heads on tall spikes. The wretched sparrows took out every one of the main flowering but they have persevered and continued to put up new flower spikes. It appears to be sterile.

Miscanthus, as mentioned above, is a key feature and the only fully deciduous grass I have used. We started with just one established plant which was elsewhere in the garden and I have lifted and divided it over three years to get as many as I want. It doesn’t need to be divided that often but I wanted more plants.

Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ I took out of the twin borders because it is too rampant. I thought it may be fine in the more spacious grass garden but it is too rampant. It is beautiful when it puts its flowers up in late spring but it is altogether too strong, spreading rapidly with its expanding root system. I am thinking I will take every second plant out this autumn and look to replacing it altogether as soon as I find a less vigorous alternative.

If any readers have other suggestions of tall grasses that are available in NZ, I would be pleased to hear.

12 thoughts on “One year on – the Court Garden

  1. tonytomeo

    Grasses were a fad here quite a while ago, but for quite a long time. It was a good fad, in the sense that some of the more popular grasses were so well suited to the climate. They like to be watered, but do not need much. However, I dislike fads, even if I tried to please neighbors at the time. I planted a bunch of corn in a tight circle, thinking that my neighbors would like the grassy texture, and that I could get a few ears of corn from it. Well, neighbors were not impressed.
    It is nice that you grew several of the same, with minimal clutter from too many other species. We use a few grasses at work (which is not my idea of course), but except for a herd of diminutive blue festuca, they are grown within landscapes of too many other species. I suppose it all looks good, but I think it would look better with less clutter, particularly for the grasses.

  2. Ross Palmer

    Hi, Owairaka seeds is listing Molinia caerulea ssp. arundinacea which could be lovely.
    I’ve ordered some for post lockdown to try my hand.

    Some personal observations on Chionochloa rubra. I planted a large bed with C. rubra sbsp rubra (least I believe it is) and C. rubra sbsp cuprea in a garden in Marlborough as the main structural grasses in a “meadow“ planting. At the time I was more focused on the look of the foliage rather than the awns however the flowers and seed heads of the rubra sbsp rubra well clear the foliage and have an effect not dissimilar to S. gigantea which has changed my thinking entirely on red tussocks. C. rubra sbsp rubra is such a lovely thing in the winter I’m thinking of replacing out the cuprea altogether.

    I find the austroderia very short lived and have stopped using them although I haven’t tried A. richardii which could be more stable. Be interesting to see if you have better luck!

    Thank you for the regular updates as someone else’s experience shared is very valuable.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Oh, that must mean that the molinia is already in the country. I didn’t know that. Thanks.
      I will be really annoyed if the austroderia die – will leave big gaps! It is the one native to this area, as I understand, so I have my fingers crossed. I will have to look up the different forms of C. rubra.

  3. robynkiltygardensnz

    You are so lucky to have the space to be able to grow Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’, It can be rather dominant though, however I guess you will work out how much is best! Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’ could be a good alternative for ‘Karl Foerster’ as it is not so big or thuggish and has variegated foliage which is most attractive! I am not against variegated foliage at all, as used in the right places, especially in dark corners, it really adds to the garden I think.

  4. bittster

    How amazing to see it all filled in and overflowing in just 12 months! It looks great.
    I almost feel like I should defend Karl Foerster, since he’s such a good grass here but of course it’s such a different climate. 10 years and Karl Foerster has barely grown out of the original planting location. Miscanthus are a different story though. Beautiful but they become a massive thing.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Karl F is a lovely grass, particularly in spring when the flowers appear. That is why it is one of the few grasses I sought out when I first started planting another area. But not for our climate. I am told Overdam may be a better option – or at least more restrained. I bought five small plants of Karl about three years ago, maybe four. Between what I have moved to the Court Garden and what I have dumped, I could now divide it and plant up at least half an acre!!!

  5. Tim Dutton

    We haven’t had any problems with the Austroderia fulvida for longevity, far from it. That may, of course, be due to either our climate or our soil or both. It grows here in very heavy soil and with a large amount of rainfall here too they become impressive plants in stature, making a clump about 3 metres round with plumes about the same in height, from spring to autumn. All that we find in our garden have self-seeded and they pop up in various places, but most frequently on the banks of the stream: I am forever weeding them out before they get too big. When we developed our swamp garden a couple of years ago I left one good specimen in place and removed the rest, then built the path to skirt around it so we don’t get torn to shreds by the sharp leaf edges when walking past. Weeding under the outskirts of the clump is done very carefully and I make sure I am covered head to toe in sturdy clothing (including a broad brimmed hat).

    Like you, we don’t fancy the Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’, but love ‘Morning Light’. I think your floppy one is the same as our M. sinensis ‘Variegatus’, which we’ve had over 20 years now and has been much divided and moved around over the years. I’ve never tried the string trick though, thanks for the tip.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That is good to hear about the austroderia. I was a bit worried. Have been told that Chionochloa flavicans tends to be short lived too. I guess we learn over time.

      1. Tim Dutton

        I agree with that one, they don’t stay looking good for very long here.

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