ISSUE 34  |  Summer's Greatest Hits

Gossamer Gardens: 11 Ideas for Landscaping with Mexican Feather Grass

August 22, 2016 2:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Mexican feather grass looks like a hazy smudge of golden color in the distance, and who wouldn’t want that as a backdrop in the garden?

Like other grasses in the Stipa genus, Mexican feather grass develops delicate pale green flowers which turn wheat-colored, at the tips of stems that move in a breeze. In addition to looking beautiful, it requires little water, intermingles easily with other perennials, and will provide structure in a garden bed nearly year-round.

In addition to Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima or Nassella tenuissima), there are many other useful varieties of feather grasses; heights, colors, and growing tendencies differ. For landscaping ideas, here are a dozen of our favorite gardens with feather grasses:

Gauzy Backdrop

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Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

White flowers with yellow centers pop against a backdrop of Mexican feather grass. In my garden, I planted a bed of grasses and low-water perennials including Echinacea ‘White Swan.’  To recreate the look, plant a mix of Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ ($10.95 apiece from White Flower Farm) and Stipa Tenuissima ($10.99 apiece from High Country Gardens). Both ship for fall planting.

Slope Softener

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Robert Kennett.

A variety of grasses, including feathery Stipa gigantea, solve problems in a Dorset garden sited “mostly on an exposed, north-facing slope,” says UK-based designer Robert Kennett.  “This border looks particularly dazzling when its architectural shapes are covered in frost.” A 4-inch pot of Stipa Gigantea available seasonally from Annie’s Annuals for $8.95.

Breezy Buffer

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Robert Kennett.

In the same Dorset garden, designer Robert Kennett planted Mexican feather grass at the front of a border to “billow in the breeze…for a dynamic dimension.”

Driveway Border

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Above: Photograph by Morgan Satterfield.

Mexican feather grass planted alongside the driveway helps “soften things up and disguises the ugly fence,” says blogger Morgan Satterfield, who replaced her lawn with a grant from the local water district. For more, see Home Turf: Goodbye to a Front Lawn.

Defining Moment

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Above: Photograph by Dennis Burnett courtesy of Tait Moring & Associates.

Mexican feather grass is planted in clumps at the edge of Austin, Texas-based landscape architect Tait Moring’s driveway. See more in Landscape Architect Visit: At Home with Tait Moring in Austin, TX.

Movement Matters

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Above:  Photograph by Rob Co.

Garden designer Jennifer Segale planted Mexican feather grass in pots in her own garden: “Stipa and other grasses give movement, which I find is incredibly important in container gardens,” she says. “Clusters of potted plants can feel heavy and stagnant without a feeling of openness and ample movement.” For more, see Garden Visit: My Driveway Oasis in Half Moon Bay, California.

Up on the Roof

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Above: Photograph by Marni Majorelle.

In Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, designer Marni Majorelle of Alive Structures created a wild, naturalistic tapestry for a rooftop garden atop a townhouse.  For more, see Brooklyn Oasis: A City Roof Garden, Before & After.

Purple Pros

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Above: Photograph by Dario Fusaro via Cristiana Ruspa.

In this garden bed, plants include silvery Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, perennial grass Stipa tenuissima, and purple spikes of Russian sage. For more, see Rehab Diaries: The Resurrection of a Medieval Nobleman’s Garden.

To recreate the look, Artemisia Powis Castle is $5.95 apiece and a low-growing variety of Russian sage, Perovskia ‘Little Spire’, is $6.95 apiece; both available from Santa Rosa Gardens.

Winter Gardens


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Above: Photograph via Hummelo courtesy of The Monacelli Press.

Above: In winter, Dutch designer Piet Oudolf leaves perennial grasses standing to create moody textures and silvery color in the landscape.

Layered Look

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Above:Photograph by Dario Fusaro via Cristiana Ruspa.

At the front of a garden bed in northern Italy designed by Turin-based Cristiana Ruspa, a clump of Stipa tenuissima shoots up like a flame against the lower profiles of artemisia and shorter grasses.

Tough Customer

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Above: Stipa tenuifolia will grow in happy clumps even in poor soil. For more, see 10 Easy Pieces: Tough Perennials for City Gardens. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia.

For more of our favorite ways to use grasses in a garden, see Leaves of Grass: 9 Ways to Create Curb Appeal with Perennial Grasses and Gardening 101: How to Care for Perennial Grasses.