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Building on Success: Long-Lived Japanese Forest Grass

Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ planted 2009
Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ planted 2009

We’ve been in the same home for 31 years, on a lot with tall, native deciduous trees and dappled shade. This is the perfect environment for shade-tolerant perennials. Between the gaps in the trees and the areas here and there that get as much as three of four hours of sun, it’s pretty bright; yet on a hot sunny summer day, it’s perhaps ten degrees cooler than out in a parking lot somewhere.

Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ planted 2003
Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ planted 2003

I have tried A LOT of plants over the years. Many I’ve tried, many have died. But some just keep chugging along, and over time, you tend to reuse things that work. For me, one of the best plants has been the Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa. It’s never been bothered by deer or rabbits, it’s never seeded out. It spreads, but rather slowly, partly because of the less-than-strenuous job I do of soil prep before planting, partly because it’s a slow grower.

Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ planted 2014
Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ planted 2014

One spot it’s worked well is the area near the curb: many a Heuchera have spent a couple of years there, before moving on to Heuchera Heaven. So, I’ve just added 5 new ‘All Gold’ (in 2014) to complement the three I planted on the other side of the walk in 2009 (has it really been that long?!) which I planted because the one I planted in 2003 in the back yard looked (and continues to look) so smashing. Its claim to fame is that the new growth comes out bright gold, turning to a pale green as the season progresses.

Hakonechloa macra ‘Albostriata’ planted 2003
Hakonechloa macra ‘Albostriata’ planted 2003

At the same time, in 2003, I also planted a white and green form in the back yard, called ‘Albostriata’. It also looks nice; it seems to grow faster and taller than the other selections I have planted; but it’s never nudged me to replant it elsewhere.

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

When I dug my pond, I put in the absolutely best selection, ‘Aureola’, which comes out bright gold with a green center stripe, and it holds the yellow color all season, and is low and serves as the perfect edge to one border of the pond. That was back in 1988. There are not that many perennials that still look good, in the same spot, never having been divided, for what is approaching 30 years.

I hope that the next owner of our house enjoys the garden, and in 2030 she says: “Aren’t those grasses lovely? They were here when we bought the house!”

Posted By: Larry Hurley/Perennials Specialist

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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