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E-Garden Almanac: Lust: In the form of hardy pampas grass

E-Garden Almanac

The E-Garden Almanac is the push-button, real human journal of Kelly D. Norris. All errors, grammatic grievances, and opinions are that of the author. Kelly is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from southwest Iowa. His passion and obsession with horticulture, plants, and gardening embodies nearly every function of his life. The E-Garden Almanac serves as the web extension of his columns, articles, and lectures.
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Location: Iowa

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Lust: In the form of hardy pampas grass

If I were to write a horticultural series on the seven deadly sins, I'd start it with an entry on lust: in the form of hardy pampas grass. So, as Monty Python would quip, "then we'll begin"...

I helped move my best friend to Denison, IA this weekend. As we familiarized ourselves with his new home, our travels took us through a quiet and aesthetically charming suburb at the north edge of town. Poking along at 25 mph gives a person ample time to evaluate and remark on the fine points of each landscape (though your friend may not relish in this undertaking). As we rambled around another loop in the road my eyes fell upon something which I shouldn't have seen. At first I took it to be an apparition, a mere participle to my fantasizing. But it wasn't. It was a living, thriving clump of hardy pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana.

This plant is the fuel for my wanderlust to travel to Argentina. Can you imagine the pampas of Argentina and its pampas grass? But this far-fetched mental voyage has been quickly voided by cautious naysayers who've decried the plant's ineptitude in our harsh winters. But here in Denison, IA (a colder Zone 4/5 than my garden) a handsome tussock was found growing in an alcove of conifers, unfettered by a night of bitter, frost-warranting temperatures. I once again have inspiration to try.

Cortaderia selloana is frequently listed as cold hardy to only Zones 6 or 7. In the south the plant thrives in abundance often verging on weedy. The raucous agglomeration of finely textured foliage is quite satisfying until the frothy plumes pinnacle its achievement in late summer and early fall. It's also a grass that is choreless. Don't bother mowing it down or chopping it back in the spring; time and band-aids conserved. Who is chopping it back on the Argentinian pampas? But if you must, you may though if you're going to do it you should only manage so with a long handled scythe. Allan Armitage offers it praise when he says "The ugliest, trash-strewn, treeless yard can be made almost inviting when the magnificent plumes proudly rise above the light green foliage." Indeed!

Many cultivars are available to the gardener who needs more than one (me!). 'Pumila' is a dwarf selection only attaining a height of 3-4', perfect for the urban landscape that is simply to small for an otherwise skyscraping proportion. 'Carnea' is a pink-flowered selection. Can you say cotton candy? 'Silver Stripe' sports a silver stripe (as horticulturists we tend to get really creative with names sometimes) along the margins of the needle-like leaf blades. Taller selections tend to work well for creating formidable barriers and property lines. Smaller ones can replace trifle hedges at the foundation of the house or other building.


Blogger gerald said...

You wrote about finding a tussock of Cortarderia selloana thriving in Denison, IA. Did you get any seeds from it? I live in zone 5, so I would be interested in getting some seed from this plant that manages to survive in the cold.

Gerald van Koeverden

8:04 AM, September 06, 2008  

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