It seems difficult to remember a time before the use of ornamental grasses in the garden. However, there are some gardeners out there who remember that at one stage the only good grass in a garden was a dead grass! That Piet Oudolf guy has a lot to answer for…
The genus Miscanthus is chock full of interesting cultivars exhibiting stripes, strips and variegations: being tall, short, wide and narrow. When this ‘fad’ appeared in Australia, I started off growing M. ’Sarabande’ and M. ’Zebrinus’; but I wanted bigger so I tried M. transmorrisonensis, but it wasn’t enough! I needed the biggest Miscanthus of all! Finally, I stumbled upon Miscanthus X giganteus. Since childhood when I once buried a piece of sugarcane in a garden bed at home hoping to recreate a Queensland holiday, I have always hoped to grow a giant grass, and Miscanthus X giganteus is the closest I could get, living as I do in Central Victoria.
Known as the giant miscanthus, it is a sterile hybrid of Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus sacchariflorus. It is almost a sugarcane-sized perennial grass that is grown in paddocks in the US where it is harvested for its biomass and also as a biofuel. Who knew?! I still can’t grow sugarcane (although I have seen it growing in Melbourne) but I can grow this Miscanthus if I remember to water it in a dry year and place it in full sun. It also appreciates a handful or three of pelletised chook poo in spring to encourage it on its way – although it doesn’t seem to need a lot of encouragement! This grass produces its feathery flowerheads later than other species and they are nice, but not the reason you grow this plant. Lastly, I value this grass for the vertical accent it brings to my garden. Other Miscanthus cultivars tend to thicken with old age, but M. X giganteus is like an upright soldier and never leans or thickens!
I first saw Miscanthus X giganteus in Stephen Ryan’s garden where, after it has dried off in the autumn, he would strip off all the leaves and spray the stems bright red. This then makes a great feature during the often colourless winter months, and it looks even better when the bright green blades of grass get growing again in spring. What do they say? ‘Red and green should never be seen!” well that’s just wrong! There’s nothing better than a pop of colour in the garden and red always does the trick! The strappy green leaves of the new foliage contrasts amazingly well with the thin red stems. Invite visitors and wait for people to ask “Wow what a great grass! Where can I buy it?!”
Stephen calls his cultivar Miscanthus giganteus ‘Duluxii Rubra’ but I couldn’t get that particular brand, so mine is Miscanthus giganteus ‘Britpaintii Rubra’. Such an easy thing to do, but it makes me smile and really lifts my spirits every time I walk past. It reminds me of a childhood experiment that led to greater things!
Melanie works in the parks department for a large Victorian municipality. A Burnley graduate, over her career she has worked for local government, educational institutions, a retail nursery and spent many years as a horticultural photo journalist. She lives in Central Victoria and is soon to be building a new home and garden.
Melanie is on Instagram @melanie.kinsey