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Gossamer Gardens: 12 Ideas for Landscaping with Mexican Feather Grass

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Gossamer Gardens: 12 Ideas for Landscaping with Mexican Feather Grass

June 10, 2020

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

Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.
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’ ($14 apiece from White Flower Farm) and Stipa Tenuissima ($8.79 apiece from High Country Gardens). Both ship for fall planting.

Slope Softener

Photograph courtesy of Robert Kennett.
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

Photograph courtesy of Robert Kennett.
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.”

Slope Solution

Photograph by Miranda Estes, courtesy of Wittman Estes.
Above: Photograph by Miranda Estes, courtesy of Wittman Estes.

A mix of grasses—including Liriope muscari ‘Big Blue’ Lily Turf, Nassella tenuissima Mexican Feather Grass, and Maiden Grass—creates a softly textured and layered look in this terraced garden in Seattle. See Landscaping Ideas: A Sunken Verdant Courtyard for a Seattle Home on a Slope.

Driveway Border

Photograph by Morgan Satterfield.
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

Photograph by Dennis Burnett courtesy of Tait Moring & Associates.
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

 Photograph by Rob Co.
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

Photograph by Marni Majorelle.
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

 Photograph by Dario Fusaro via Cristiana Ruspa.
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

 Photograph via Hummelo courtesy of The Monacelli Press.
Above: Photograph via Hummelo courtesy of The Monacelli Press.

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

Layered Look

Photograph by Dario Fusaro via Cristiana Ruspa.
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

Stipa tenuifolia will grow in happy clumps even in poor soil. For more, see  Easy Pieces: Tough Perennials for City Gardens. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia.
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 Grasses: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our Garden Design 101 guides. Read more:

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