Singer: Instrumental ornamental plants for the Foothills |

Singer: Instrumental ornamental plants for the Foothills

Submitted photos by Carolyn Singer

When the architect and builder have completed their beautiful work, there are always challenges remaining for the landscaper. Strong vertical and horizontal lines inspire solutions that complement rather than conceal the house design. Windows view spaces, both close and distant, that are in integral part of each room.

Placed near fences and gates, Stipa tenuissima, softens the architecture, catching the sunlight all day.

One house on the Music in the Mountains home tour (this weekend) is an extraordinary home that integrates interior and exterior landscapes. The owners are partial to ornamental grasses, both native and non-native, making my decisions much easier.

A planter outside the bedroom needed a grass that would complement the strong lines of the planter itself and the house nearby. While the structure of the planter is quite large, the grass needed to be fine and delicately textured to avoid blocking the breathtaking western view from the interior of the house.

Native blue grama grass (also called mosquito grass), Bouteloua gracilis, was my first choice. I found it at Lotus Valley Nursery, a nursery specializing in ornamental grasses near Placerville. As I photographed it this summer (a year after it was planted), I was pleased. In full bloom for a few months, delicate shadows were cast on the edge of the planter, adding to the beauty of the planter.

Blue grama grass forms tight clumps of fine foliage 18 inches in width and under a foot in height. In bloom for much of the summer, the grass attains a height of 18 inches, but the upright and arching stalks are so delicate that they do not block the view.

Endemic stands of this delicate California native are rare. While it has occurred in the Mohave desert near the Nevada border, over-grazing for years has practically eliminated it. Adding it into our foothill landscapes is a commitment to a native clumping grass that may be endangered.

A native grass that is definitely not endangered is Mexican feather grass, Stipa tenuissima (also classified as Nassella tenuisssima). Spreading easily from the hundreds of seeds it produces, feather grass may develop large stands. Certainly the one grass most affected by wind, swaying in the slightest breeze, this drought-tolerant native adds an illusion of motion even on a completely still moment.

Height and width depend on soil fertility and available moisture. On a dry driveway edge, feather grass may peak at eighteen inches height in bloom with a narrow spread, under a foot. A clumping grass, the base of the plant would be under six inches in dry conditions. Leaves and flowering stalks are very fine and arching.

But then give feather grass some good soil and irrigation: the dimensions may double! Full stands of this native grass are beautiful, beginning with the bright green spring foliage and gradually transitioning to gold.

Placed near fences and gates, Stipa tenuissima, softens the architecture, catching the sunlight all day. Soft autumn breezes bring it to life, stirring the fine foliage. Shadows dance on nearby structures, connecting garden to home.

Find out where Carolyn Singer will teach her next garden class at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User