ISSUE 10  |  California Cool

Leaves of Grass: 9 Ways to Create Curb Appeal with Perennial Grasses

July 28, 2016 2:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Add romance and hazy color to your life–and create instant curb appeal–by planting perennials grasses in a front yard, alongside a path, or as a mini meadow.

Hardy, drought-tolerant perennials grasses are year-round friends who will turn golden and feathery in winter months. The graceful, architectural clumps are equally striking when planted in broad swathes or as punctuation in an ornamental garden bed.

Grasses are a cornerstone of a naturalistic style of landscape design that owes its current popularity to Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, whose planting schemes recently transformed an eyesore elevated railroad track into New York City’s magnificent High Line park. We’ve borrowed a few ideas from him and other garden designers to come up with a list of ways to add curb appeal with grasses:

Crowd Control


Above: Photograph courtesy of Adam Woodruff & Associates.

On a busy corner lot in Springfield, Illinois, garden designer Adam Woodruff replaced his own front lawn with a modern interpretation of a cottage garden. The mix of low-maintenance perennials, ornamental grasses, and shrubs creates a colorful mini meadow and persuades pedestrians to stay on the sidewalk instead of taking a shortcut across his yard.

Woodruff included a number of grasses in the mix, including Sesleria autumnalis, Sporobolus heterolepis, Spodiopogon sibiricus, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, and Molinia litoralis “˜Transparent’.


Above: Close-up views of Woodruff’s planting schemes reveal how he created a painterly effect. At (L) is a mix of Helenium “˜Mardis Gras’, Origanum laevigatum “Herrenhausen’, Baptisia “Purple Smoke’, Astilbe chinensis “Purpurkerze’, Eryngium yuccifolium, and Perovskia atriplicifolia. At (R), plants include Amsonia hubrichtii, Perovskia atriplicifolia, and Salvia “May Night’. Photographs courtesy of Adam Woodruff & Associates.

Front Lawn Fix


Above: Photograph courtesy of Lucas and Lucas.

Healdsburg, CA-based landscape architects Lucas and Lucas substituted drought-tolerant perennial grasses for turf in Sonoma, creating a low-water front lawn that glows golden at sunset.

Pathway Border


Above: Photograph by Piet Oudolf courtesy of Planting: A New Perspective.

In Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf’s own garden, he planted low-growing late-season grasses to avoid obscuring the view. Interspersed are such perennials as Veroniscastrum virginicum (R) and clumps of taller Molinia caerulea grasses.

For more of Oudolf’s grassy garden designs, see Required Reading: How to Recreate Piet Oudolf’s Painterly Landscapes.

Pots & Planters


Above: Photograph by Meredith Swinehart.

Our DIY planters editor Julie Chai created deep purple drama with millet in a pot. For a materials list and step-by-step instructions, see DIY Patio Planter: Dark and Stormy Shades.


Above: Photograph by Rob Co.

Garden designer Jennifer Segale of Wildflower Farms plants Stipa and other grasses in containers to 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.

No-Mow Lawn


Above: Photograph by Matthew Millman courtesy of Scott Lewis.

In northern California’s Napa Valley, landscape architect Scott Lewis replaced turf grass with Bouteloua gracilis “˜Blonde Ambition’, a sturdy grass that will stand upright through autumn and into winter “until you get a really, really hard frost or a really big rain,” says Lewis.

For more, see Vineyard Haven: A Napa Valley Garden That Belongs to the Land.

Foundation Garments


Above: Photograph by Christine Chitnis for Gardenista. For more of this garden, see At Home with Rhode Island Artist Georgia Marsh.

In a Rhode Island garden, artist Georgia Marsh planted grasses along the foundation of the house, using them as a hedging plant to add an extra layer to the garden.

Punctuation Marks


Above: Photograph by Christine Chitnis for Gardenista. For more of this garden, see At Home with Rhode Island Artist Georgia Marsh.

A single clump of tall grasses creates height and depth in an ornamental garden bed at artist Georgia Marsh’s home in Rhode Island.

Fence Substitute


Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista. For more of this garden, see An Architect at Home: A Kitchen Garden on Cape Cod.

Tall clumps of grasses “hide a multitude of sins” in architect Sheila Bonnell’s Cape Cod garden, where they soften the look of a chicken wire fence that surrounds the vegetable garden.

Garden Sculpture


Above: South Africa-based landscape designer Franchesca Watson uses tall grasses to create focal points to draw the eye in a suburb of Constantia. For more of this garden, see Garden Designer Visit: A Study in Green by Franchesca Watson.

A clump of grasses, deliberately sited, can have the same visual power as a three-dimensional statue in a garden.

For more of our favorite ways to use plants to create curb appeal, see DIY: Container of the Month Pots & Planters.