Autumn’s Burning Beauty: Flame Grass Heats Up the Mid-October Garden …

Showing Off Ribbon-Candy Colors in My Garden: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ (Planted with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’/’Monlo’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ on Left. That’s Rhus typhina, Occurring in a Natural Stand Behind the Border)

If you’ve been following this journal for awhile, you are probably quite familiar with my passion for the sensual beauty of ornamental grass (see previous post here). When it comes to four season garden design, the versatility of these graceful perennials can’t be beat. There are ornamental grasses for sun, for shade, for dry places and even bogs. Some species of grass grow to become great giants –towering well over six feet— and others are diminutive as little leprechauns. I love them all, and use ornamental grasses in most every garden I design. Of course, to every thing there is a season, and for every time of year, I do have a favorite. In the autumn landscape, Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’) is my top choice…

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ Living Up to the ‘Flame Grass’ Moniker! Planted Here in My Meadow-Edge Garden with Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’, Viburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select/Redwing’ and in the foreground, Juniperus x Pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’ 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ is a mid-sized ornamental grass; growing to a height of approximately four or five feet, with similar —or less—spread. Although this species will tolerate a bit of shade, best results are achieved by positioning Flame Grass in full sun and well-drained soil. Graceful and attractive throughout the growing season, Flame Grass really begins to strut her stuff in August, when the shimmering, silvery-plum inflorescences appear. As temperatures drop and light changes, the color of this grass heats up like an autumn bonfire.

Though beautiful on its own, I prefer to use Flame Grass in combination with other perennials, deciduous trees/shrubs and conifers to bring out her ribbon-candy-like colors (blue tinted Picea pungens and many Juniper species are particularly lovely conifer companions for this Maiden Grass). Backed up by deep maroon or red, this autumn stunner becomes nearly electric (Physocarpus opufolius ‘Diablo’ or ‘Summer Wine’ and Rhus typhina provide a stunning backdrop for ornamental grass). The fiery vermillion and scarlet shades found in many Viburnum species play equally well with Flame Grass, as do violet-purple flowers (think autumn blooming, blue asters, deep purple monkshood, and darker flowered, maroon-tinted mums).

Though Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens) is Beautiful Planted Solo, Combining This Autumn Beauty with Perennials (like the Amsonia illustris, bright yellow on the left) Colorful Fall Shrubs (like the still-green Fothergilla gardenii in this grouping), as well as Evergreen Trees and Shrubs (like this Juniperus x Pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’) Makes for Truly Spectacular Fall Garden Design (Photo of My Front Entry Garden in Mid-October)

Given the stunning beauty of Flame Grass, I’m always surprised by how difficult it is to find at nurseries. In fact, I’ve had such a hard time locating this particular cultivar of Maiden Grass, that I’ve taken to growing my own from divisions, for use in my clients’ gardens. It should be noted that some cultivars within the species Miscanthus sinensis (commonly known as Eulalia Grass or Maiden Grass) can become aggressive in warmer climates, and although not restricted, a few are considered potentially invasive, in certain areas only, by the USDA. If you are gardening in the more southerly regions of North America, this is a situation for you to monitor and consider. However most forms of Maiden Grass are only marginally hardy in colder climates (most are USDA listed for zones 5-9), and are therefore unlikely to become weedy or invasive in northern areas. In my own Vermont garden, and in the New England gardens under my care, the Maiden Grass species —and M. sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ in particular— is well mannered and incredibly useful from a design standpoint.

Morphing to a Beautiful Burnt-Orange, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ Catches Frost, Ice and Snow, Remaining an Alluring Feature in the Winter Garden

Flame Grass –To the Front, Right and Center, of My Garden– with Early Snow. For More Winter Garden Design Images and Ideas, Click Back to This Post.

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