Six On Saturday: Grasses, Not Just Lawns

Let’s take a look at some grasses today. By no means is this an overlooked category in the garden. Whether we are talking about beautiful lawns or ornamental species, the right or wrong selection of grass can make a big difference. It can also add interest with textures and colors.

Although many environmentalists discourage traditional lawns, most homeowners like to give a presentable face to the neighborhood. And if your property isn’t well-maintained, your neighbors will talk-trash you behind your back.

When my husband was in the hospital, I came home one evening and found our yard had been mowed. Our neighbor Karl tried to do it anonymously, but I found out who did it. Then during his recovery, our neighbor Amy mowed our lawn a couple of times. And brother-in-law Elliott has faithfully come all summer to edge, weed-eat, and to keep the grass cut. We are so grateful for friends and family who have been generous with their time and energy for us. I think it has kept the neighbors from talking bad about us because of the yard.

My husband has always obsessed over the lack of perfection in our yard’s turf. It has cost a lot of money and energy to try to maintain a presentable standard. But he sees the details, and my opinion is that from a distance, it looks like a fine green carpet. Our mostly St. Augustine grass is never weed-free. It has gone through cycles of pests and disease. We’ve more than doubled our water bill in times of drought.

My grandparents kept a neatly swept yard, as did most rural southerners. No grass in the front. Only bare ground. In times past, only people of wealth and status could sustain a grassy lawn. Both sets of my parents’ parents spent their time and effort growing food for the table and small cash crops their seven children helped maintain and harvest. The only grass they intentionally grew was corn.

I suppose that’s why my parent’s generation and my own focused on an idealized beautiful lawn. We had to shake that image of the poor backward southerner.

Let’s move on to other grasses.

Our communities by the Gulf of Mexico utilize sea oats to maintain the integrity of sand dunes. In fact, it’s illegal to pick the sea oats. They help the dunes catch sand and continue to build up, preventing beach erosion. However, with the recent hurricanes, not even the sea oats could stop the storm surge from pushing the berms onto the roadways and pull beaches back into the water. Millions of dollars are allocated each year to restoring our shorelines.

There are many rivers, lakes, and bays in our area, all having necessary aquatic vegetation.

(Thanks to my friend Sandra for this picture.)

The grasses provide a habitat for fish, shellfish, and other wildlife. Our alligators love it, so watch out!

In many southern gardens, you find extensive use of liriope, commonly called monkey grass. Its neatly clumping forms provide nice borders for flower beds. The bonus of spiky purple flowers in summer and shiny black berries in fall and winter add to its interest. I’m not sure it’s technically a grass, but I’m including it because of the grass like strappy foliage – and we call it monkey grass.

Most of it is well behaved, but a thin blade variety, known as mondo grass, spreads by underground rhizomes can be pretty aggressive. It’s best used where you want a spreading ground cover.

Most monkey grass is dark green, but I have a variegated variety that does well in sunny areas. It is a very slow grower, so I use it as a filler to brighten up areas where I primarily use annuals.

There are many beautiful ornamental grasses that also do well in our area. Many are drought-tolerant and are used by commercial landscapers and in areas like roadway medians. Late summer and fall is when their lovely plumes shine in the sun and rustle in the breeze.

That’s my six. Okay, it was seven.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. –Isaiah 40:8

Yall have a blessed week.

Shalom, Dottie

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