Tuesday, May 19, 2009


"Designer greens" are the rage for health-conscious Americans. These leafy mixes known as mesclun are not only low in calories and high in nutrition but also are very tasty.

History and Definition

A comparatively recent import from Provencal France is mesclun, the term for mixes of tender young lettuces and other greens. Purists and those from Provence might argue with our use of the word "mesclun" since our mesclun mixes are not grown in those warm southern fields of France and also because ours often go beyond the traditional greens. The Provencal tradition calls for chervil, arugula, lettuce and endive in precise proportions.
American mescluns may include lettuces, arugula, endives, mustards, purslane, chicory, cresses, parsleys, fennels, escarole and tender wild greens as well. Bibb, Romaine, oakleaf and crisphead lettuces, the four kinds of lettuce, often are all represented in popular mesclun blends. Lettuces are most common in the milder blends. Piquant, peppery mescluns include such things as sharp arugula, tangy mustards, spicy cresses and zesty chicory.
Mesclun may include varieties of greens that are comparatively unknown to American gardeners. Look for mizuna, a delicate, leafy green from Japan and tat-soi, another Asian green with sweet dark leaves. Cultivated French purslane, a succulent relative of our well-known garden weed, is a choice European salad ingredient that has tart, lemony leaves that are a rich source of Vitamin E plus Omega-3 fatty acids that are said to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Some eight to sixteen or more different plants may be used to meet our American tastes. Piquant and milder mixes are two main divisions of mesclun. The National Garden Bureau recommends planting piquant and milder mescluns in separate wide rows, then harvesting separately and mixing in proportions to suit the occasion, the meal and personal taste.
Even edible flowers or their petals--bachelor's buttons, calendulas, chive blossoms, marigolds, nasturtiums and violets--may be part of a mesclun mix. Mesclun seeds are blended to many tastes and appropriately called by such names as spring salad, stir-fry greens, Nicoise, piquant mix, Provencal, garnish mix and so forth. Rarely are seed packets simply labeled "mesclun."
Although the ingredients in mesclun are varied, all mescluns are noted for their tasty combinations of flavors, colors and textures. Mescluns include a rainbow of greens from light green to deep emerald, from deep reddish green to bronzy red to lime.


Lettuce (Lactuca sativa), cultivars of which are major components of mesclun seed mixes, is an annual or biennial member of the Chicorium tribe of the Compositae or daisy family. Lettuce is thought to have originated in central Asia. Lettuce has been cultivated and used as an herbal medicine as well as an edible since as early as 500 BC when it was known to be cultivated in the royal gardens of Persian monarchs. Thus, it is one of the oldest of our vegetables.
The four types of lettuce are looseleaf, cos (romaine), butterhead and crisphead. Easiest of all to grow are the looseleaf varieties which are the backbone of most mescluns. An old variety that is quite heat resistant is 'Oakleaf,' a handsome green lettuce with leaves that are distinctly like those of oaks. 'Prizehead' is a reddish-green variety known best for its crisp sweetness. 'Black Seeded Simpson' is a fast growing green leaf lettuce particularly suited to spring and fall crops.
A number of modern cultivars are descendants of the old-fashioned oakleaf variety. Red Oakleaf, a class of red leaf lettuces, will be as red as possible when grown in full sun. 'Red Sails' is a compact looseleaf lettuce known for its mild flavor and handsome reddish leaves. Another good red-green variety is 'Red Salad Bowl,' an oakleaf type that is bolt-resistant. These are a few of the better known looseleaf lettuces you may find in mesclun mixes.
Other composites commonly blended in mescluns are chicory (Chicorium intybus), which probably was originally native to Europe, and its close relative, endive (Chicorium endivia), which is thought to come from India. Best known of the chicories is the elegant radicchio with its red foliage swirled with pale green and white. Dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinale) are another likely addition to mescluns.
The family Cruciferae, also known as the mustard family, is often well represented in mescluns by watercress (Nasturtium), arugula (Eruca), kale (Brassica) and mustards (Brassica). Other well-known members of this family include cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, radishes and turnips.
The herbs, parsley and fennel, also may be components of mesclun seed mixes. Both are representatives of the Unbelliferae or carrot family that also includes a number of other important herbs--dill, anise, caraway, chervil, lovage, coriander and angelica. The ubiquitous wildflower, Queen Anne's lace, or wild carrot, also is a member of this family. You can recognize members of this family by their umbrella-like flowers.
These are the major participants of modern American mesclun mixes. The National Garden Bureau also suggests other greens with more than a little mesclun potential. The young leaves of spinach (Spinacia oleracea) and chard (Beta vulgaris), both members of the Chenopodiaceae or goosefoot family, would bring special qualities to mescluns. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), a member of the Portulacaceae family and best known as a garden weed, is available as refined garden cultivars and is another good addition to the mesclun mix.

Growing From Seeds, Site Planning and Preparation

Mesclun, like lettuce and its other leafy components, will grow best in soil that is rich, loamy and of good loose structure. Soils should be well draining and with a pH that is slightly acid to neutral. If the soil is heavy and loaded with clay, plant in slightly raised beds to improve drainage. Salad greens prefer a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Although some mesclun mixes include greens that are tolerant of heat, most are crops of cool mild weather and will grow in sun to partial shade. When growing mesclun during hot weather, choose a site that is shaded from hot afternoon sun for best results, or use shade cloth to provide shade.
The lettuces and other leafy greens of mesclun are shallow rooted and so will benefit from an inch or so of fine organic fertilizer or compost worked into the top few inches of garden soil before planting. When the seeds have germinated and the true leaves are growing, an additional top or side dressing of finely textured compost or organic fertilizer will encourage vigorous growth.
An area in the vegetable garden is not the only place to grow mesclun--not by a long shot. Mesclun is not only a nutritious addition to the kitchen garden, it also is a pretty crop and so can be used in ornamental gardens as well. The leaves are in a range of green shades and the textures are varied as well.
The National Garden Bureau notes that mesclun makes a handsome addition to an herb garden either as a border or when broadcast in a well-defined area. Mesclun also grows well in containers, making the leafy blends ideal for patio or terrace plantings in tubs and other containers. Once you have grown mesclun, you will quickly appreciate its ornamental assets--let your imagination be your guide in site selection. Care for this simple but elegant short-lived crop is just as easy in ornamental beds or containers as it is in vegetable gardens.

Timing To Grow

Mesclun is certainly one of the easiest of all garden crops to grow. Sow the seeds and then begin to harvest the baby leaves in one to five weeks, depending upon the season and the temperature of air and soil. Lettuce and the other leafy greens of mesclun mixes grow swiftly, therefore you should plan to make successive plantings of the seed mixes throughout the growing season. Generally, if you plant mesclun seed mixes every ten days to two weeks from spring through fall, you will have mesclun for salads and stir-fry dishes all season long.
Seeds will germinate in cool weather, even as low as 40º F. Although the lettuces will grow at their best when temperatures are in the 60s, you can get good early growth by providing afternoon shade and constant soil moisture.
Even in regions with long cold winters, you can lengthen the growing season for mescluns to practically all year with grow lights, greenhouses, cold frames, row covers, water tunnels and other season extenders. Fresh home-grown greens in the middle of the snowy season would be a wonderful treat.

Sowing Seed

Plant mesclun seed about one to two weeks before the last frost date. Check with your local Master Gardeners or Extension Agents to see what that date is in your region. Another way to know when it is time to sow the seeds of semihardy mescluns is to monitor the soil temperature. When the soil temperature at a depth of two to three inches is between 32 and 40º F, you can plant mesclun seed as well as spinach, cabbage, carrots and radishes. Salad gardens are tough! Keep the mesclun bed moist but not soggy.
Mesclun seed packets say that the seed will germinate in six to fourteen days. That would be under cool soil conditions because the seeds will germinate in only three to four days when sown in the late summer in the Midwest when day temperatures are about 85º F and night temperatures are about 65º F. If night temperatures are 80º F or above do not sow mesclun seed. It is too hot for germination. Wait until day and night temperatures decline.
Make sure that soil is moist before sowing seeds. If sowing in rows, make a furrow 1/4 inch deep, sow seed, then cover furrow. If you sow wide rows or areas, simply scatter the seeds, then cover them with about 1/4-inch fine soil or compost. Keep seeded areas moist.
One final word on sowing mesclun mixes: Since many mescluns are a blend of several kinds of seeds, be sure to gently shake the seed package to mix the seeds. Otherwise, your greens might grow in slightly segregated fashion.

Growing On

Since mesclun is harvested when the leaves are small, young and tender, soil preparation prior to sowing seed is perhaps the most important factor for this tasty crop. A constant supply of soil moisture is extremely important when growing salad crops, including mesclun mixes. It is very important to time supplemental waterings so that the soil stays constantly moist but not soggy.
Mesclun greens will not be at their tender and tasty best if they are subjected to wet soil/dry soil extremes. Soil extremes encourage bolting and bitterness as lettuces begin to mature. These extremes also discourage the rapid growth that is a key to taste and texture in leafy crops.
Since harvest takes place when the plants are young, small and tender, you do not have to thin crowded seedlings as you might when growing lettuces and other greens in the usual way. Instead, begin cutting the leaves as soon as the plants are about two inches tall.


Mesclun is at its crispy peak when picked early in the morning before the sun is strong. Heat causes the leafy plants to wilt. If you must harvest mesclun during the heat of the day, be sure to allow time to crisp the leaves in cool water before serving.
Use scissors to harvest mesclun greens, beginning when they are only a couple of inches high and never let it get more than six inches tall. When you do this, the crop will continue to grow. Cut-and-come-again crops like mesclun and leaf lettuces are rare. Mesclun will make an attractive border to a perennial bed and, if you harvest with scissors rather than pulling the plants, they will regrow quickly. Cut leaves just above the growing crowns. Since some of the greens grow more quickly than others, the exact proportions of your mesclun salads will vary from harvest to harvest. Also harvest the mild and piquant mescluns separately. Blend according to taste in the kitchen or even at the table.
While mescluns are best suited to cool weather, they can be kept growing during hot summer weather by frequent planting and prompt harvest. The hotter it is, the more shade should be provided, especially in the afternoon when the heat is at its maximum.
To enjoy long harvests with each crop of mesclun, be sure to keep it cut and watered. Planting a crop of mesclun every ten days to two weeks also will extend the season. For gardeners who live in areas that have cold winters, an easy way to lengthen the harvest season in both spring and fall is to grow early and late mesclun crops in cold frames or with row covers.


Once mesclun is harvested, rinse the leaves in cool water to remove any dust or dirt. Then examine the greens for weeds or interlopers and drain on towels or pat dry. If you spin-dry the greens, be sure to use them immediately since this process bruises the leaves and they will go limp quickly. Mesclun and other greens are best when used right away. If you can't serve mesclun at once, wrap the leaves gently in slightly damp towels, seal in a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator. If carefully handled and stored properly, greens should stay tasty and fresh for several days. If recently harvested mesclun becomes slightly wilted, it will take up moisture and revive in cool water. Crisping will take ten to fifteen minutes.

Eating Qualities

The taste of mesclun will depend upon the mix of plants in the blend since mesclun is, in a sense, a salad stew that may include the mildest of lettuces as well as the most peppery of cresses. Indeed, it is possible for each mouthful of mesclun to have a different taste. Mesclun textures will be tender and smooth to slightly crunchy.
Many gardeners choose to pick mesclun just before they eat, serving it simply with only a bit of light vinaigrette dressing. Harvested while still very young, the small leaves combine with simple salad dressing to make scrumptious summer salads. When stir-fried or wilted in a bit of butter or hot oil, mesclun makes a delicious addition to fresh vegetable dishes or pastas. Mesclun is a treat for the eye as well as the palate. The colors reach through all shades of green to reddish greens and bronzes. Textures may be soft and rounded or crackling with sharp, serrated edges. Leaf forms range from simple and entire to all degrees of cutleaf shapes and even fernlike growth.
Mesclun originated in the south of France. The name derives from the Nicois word mesclumo (a mixture). The traditional mixture includes various kinds of both wild and cultivated endive (chicory), lamb's lettuce and dandelion. Arugula, groundsel, chervil, salsify, purslane, oak leaf lettuce and other greens also might be included. The French season their mesclun with vinaigrette made of olive oil and flavored with fines herbes, garlic and even anchovies, according to Jenifer Harvey Lang in her Larousse Gastronomique.
Most Americans prefer using mild light dressings on mescluns so as not to hide the delicate flavors of the greens. Some seed houses mix the seeds according to the season rather than the flavor. Thus, there may be mesclun mixes for hot weather, for mild seasons and for cool seasons. Study the different catalogs to see which you prefer.


During warm weather when days are long, lettuce and other leafy salad plants tend to develop seed stalks, the leaves get progressively bitter and tough. The key to good mesclun is to begin to harvest when the plants are two inches tall and harvest all leaves before they get much bigger than a couple of inches. Obviously, this eliminates the problem of bolting. If plants do bolt, remove from garden.
Make successive plantings and harvest young plants. Wide-row planting and sowing small areas rather than single rows of plants also will reduce tendencies that the plants may have to bolt--the thickly growing plants shade the ground, keeping the roots cool.


Home gardeners can easily grow the healthful, tasty blends of gourmet green often called mesclun mixes. Those who buy greens do not find the same kind of nutritional quality and tasty freshness that gardeners can bring to their tables.
The National Garden Bureau reports that looseleaf lettuces, a major constituent of most mescluns, are just loaded with Vitamin A and also are high in potassium. Yet they contain a negligible number of calories. An average portion (100 grams) contains 1,900 international units of Vitamin A and 264 milligrams of potassium. A portion also contains 18 milligrams of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).
Chicory greens, another common ingredient in mesclun seed mixes, also are low in calories and high in nutritional value. An average portion (100 grams) contains only 20 calories but has 4,000 international units of Vitamin A, 420 milligrams of potassium and 22 milligrams of ascorbic acid.
Mesclun greens also contain appreciable amounts of calcium and phosphorus. A water content of over 90 percent plus low calories and high nutritional values make mesclun a tasty salad treat that more than meets the requirements of even the most health-conscious individuals. Freshly picked mesclun will be at its tastiest and will contain the most nutrients.

Thanks to the National Garden Bureau and Barbara Perry Lawton for this article. The NGB has made 2009 the Year of Mesclun and Petunia, so go and enjoy these two great plants. Also for more information on the National Garden Bureau, please visit their web site at www.ngb.org!


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Plant Genealogy

Some people think all new varieties are hybrids. This is not true. There are new flowers and vegetables introduced each year that are open pollinated (OP) varieties. To understand the difference between a hybrid and an open pollinated variety, think of plant genealogy. An open pollinated plant has one parent; a hybrid has two parents. In simplest terms, hybrid seed can be defined as the seed that results from the cross-pollination of two inbred parent plants. Open pollinated varieties, by contrast, have only one parent line.

Many seeds being offered for sale in packets, mail order and at nurseries are F1 hybrids but there are a number of classes where this method of hybridization does not work. New varieties are created by a plant breeder. When a breeder has uniform, genetically stable inbred plants, he or she can consider creating new hybrids. To produce hybrid seed, pollen is moved, often by hand, but possibly by insects or the wind, from the anthers of one inbred plant (male) and placed on the stigma of the second inbred plant (female). The seed that grows as a result of this pollination is 'hybrid seed'. Hybrids are often the preferred type of a variety for a number of reasons. The hybrid parents are chosen to complement each other and/or compensate for each other's flaws, creating a new variety that is better than the best qualities of each of the parents. Hybrids tend to be very uniform, have better seed quality, and they can be more vigorous plants. Many show other aspects of improved performance such as earlier or more sustained flowering, larger flowers, or in vegetables earlier or larger fruits.

Most large-scale production of F1 hybrid seed is produced in greenhouses or enclosed shade houses. The female flower plants are grown on greenhouse benches and workers place the selected pollen on the receptive female. This control of the cross-pollination is critical for hybrid seed production. The production structures are enclosed or sealed so that no bees or other pollen carrying insects enter the structure. In certain cases the creation of hybrid seed is not feasible for several reasons. First, the biology of the plant or the flower configuration are designed for self-pollination resulting in open pollinated plants.

In other cases the cost of creating a hybrid plant is prohibitive and the hybrids may not be notably superior. For example, Salvia splendens hybrids were created, offered by several companies, and are no longer sold because the hybrids were not noticeably improved over open pollinated plants.

Open pollinated flowers or vegetables are often easier and faster to breed and produce. Breeders create new varieties by selecting "parent" plants by repeatedly self-pollinating a particular plant and its resulting progeny over several generations. For instance, a plant breeder may find a plant with an interesting or unique characteristic, either growing in the greenhouse or perhaps even growing in the wild. The breeder would pollinate this plant and grow out large numbers of the second generation as this is where the most variations occur and good combinations of characteristics from the parents are sometimes found. Normally a number of selections are made in the greenhouse and outdoors. To make sure that the variety is true to type, the best individual plants are chosen, these are self-pollinated, and the whole process is repeated from as few as three to possibly eight or more times.

Production of OP varieties often takes place in acres of fields where thousands of plants are grown. Bees may be provided to enhance pollination, and seed may be harvested by hand or with specialized equipment. The only obstacle is that each variety or color must be produced at a location distant from other varieties or colors so that cross-pollination contamination does not occur.

Once the variety has been developed, named and introduced, the work has not ended. Some classes of OP flowers or vegetables need to be very closely watched as they can become quite variable for plant or flower type. Continuous stock seed maintenance is very important to maintain good quality.

When a promising line has been developed it is then tested under various climatic conditions. Outstanding varieties may be considered for entry in the All-America Selections or Fleuroselect (European) trials.

WHAT ARE ORGANIC SEEDS? We have received inquiries about organic seed. We offer this explanation. They are seeds harvested from plants that have been grown without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Also organic seeds are not treated with any fungicide or other synthetic chemical (after harvesting) prior to sale. Organic seed is sold through retail outlets and mail-order catalogs. Some organic seeds are sold as Certified Organic Seeds. Certified seed is seed that has been certified by an independent organization that says the seed meets specific organic standards established by the organization. There are many different certifying organizations in the U.S. and internationally including Oregon Tilth (www.tilth.org) and California Certified Organic Farmers (www.ccof.org).


Monday, May 11, 2009


Short on space? Renting? Living in an apartment? Answer yes to one of these questions and container gardening might be for you. But container gardening doesn't necessarily mean you can only grow flowers. There is an incredible variety of vegetables you can grow in pots.

Many times you will see people growing vegetables in half whiskey barrels. They're ideal because they're reasonably deep enough for some root crops. Of course you can really use just about anything. The conventional - terra cotta (or fake terra cotta) ---- to the unusual - 44 gallon drums cut in half, bath tubs, kid's wading pools, even old boots. You just need to make sure your container has adequate drainage by either drilling a hole in the bottom or filling the bottom of the container with rocks or old broken clay pots.

Use a quality potting mix as it’s designed for good drainage. Ordinary garden soil will compact too heavily and limit root growth, so avoid the temptation to use it. Unless you're growing root crops or onions you can also add some composted manure, blood and bone meal to the container. If you're growing onions, legumes (beans, peas) or brassicas (cabbage, broccoli) add some lime or dolomite to sweeten the soil. Throw in a smidgeon of sulphate of potash if you're growing veggies which flower, like tomatoes, chili’s, eggplants, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchinis, melons, sweet corn. Your imagination is the only thing holding you back!

When you're choosing your containers there are a couple of things you should keep in mind. Use light rather than dark colored containers to reduce heat absorption. This will put less stress on your vegetables. If you want your pots to have an attractive terra cotta look you should consider plastic fake terra cotta. Its lighter and the pot won't dry out quickly like real terra cotta. Remember whatever type of container you choose, water will be used quicker in potting mix compared to soil. So you'll need to water your containers regularly. During summer heat waves they'll need watering twice a day.

Watering containers regularly creates a problem. Nutrients in the enriched potting mix are gradually leached out. So to keep your plants healthy you should water them weekly and sprinkle in some good old 5-10-5 fertilizer. It is organic and safe for both you and your plants

The next big question is what vegetables can you grow in containers? Almost all of them. There's only one thing that determines what veggies you can grow in containers, and that’s the size of the container. Basically, the deeper the container, the greater the variety of vegetables you can grow. Deep containers let you grow a greater variety of root crops like carrots and parsnips. However, you should still be able to grow baby carrots in shallower containers. Deep containers also let you drive down big stakes to support 6 feet tall tomato plants and should also accommodate sweet corn. You can still get around these problems even with a container depth of about 8 inches. It’s all about choosing the right variety of vegetable. For example grow low bush cherry tomatoes or dwarf tomatoes that don't need a large stake. Have a look through those seed catalogues you received over the winter or do a bit of research to find the variety best suited for your containers, then head off to your local garden center with your list. The more research you do, the better your bounty will be.

For those with little space for growing, you can supplement your food budget in these economic times by growing your own vegetables, plus you have the added benefit of knowing they are pesticide free.

Now get outside and get growing!


Monday, May 4, 2009


A revised version of the USDA Hardiness Zone map will be released later this year according to recent reports. The color-coded map, found on the backs of seed packets and in garden magazines and on websites, shows the average annual minimum temperatures for the USA. Across the country, those average minimal temperatures have been slowly rising. For an interesting visual on how the zones and general warming patterns have changed between 1990 and 2006, visit www.arborday.org/media/mapchanges.cfm.

Adding Vertical Movement to your Garden

As many of you know one of my favorite perennials for the garden is Ornamental Grasses. They add upright habit in the garden, the gentle swaying of the leaves add motion, and the soft rustling of the leaves calms even the most upset soul. I am going to list a few of my favorites today, but if you live in Northern NJ, stop by the James A. McFaul Environmental Center in Wyckoff and visit the Ornamental Grass Garden (something I created many years ago) to see the actual plants and their growing habits.

We will start this journey with the grasses that are green for most of the growing season, but deserve recognition for either their fall foliage color or their flower structure. The first is Briza media (Quaking grass). This 12" specimen will work well into the front of your border and in June you will be pleasantly surprized by the heart-shaped seed pods which are 12'' above the foliage. As the common name suggests, with the slightest breeze the seed heads "quake" and give animation to the garden. Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats) is also known for its seed heads, but more importantly it is a native grass that will thrive in a partialy shaded area of your garden. It grows to 30" and will reward you with excellent dried flowers for your arrangements. One word of caution: Northern Sea Oats can be a relentless self-seeder, so diligence is a must! Deschampsia caespitosa (Tufted Hair Grass) is a 12" clump growing grass which will reach 30" in height in flower. This grass is used for a visual tie in the front of your border, never interfering with the rest of your planting but always letting you know it is there. Panicum clandestinum (Deer Tongue Grass) is a 3 - 4' native that will tolerate shade. The wide leaves of this plant will give the garden the feel of bamboo without the running rhizomes to worry about. Micanthus sinensis purpurescens (Flame Grass) grows to 4 - 5'. While this grass has the telltale flower plumes of Miscanthus, the common name will say it all; it turns a bright red in the fall and will turn your head to that section of your property, not only to that section of your garden. Finally in the green is the ever popular Fountain grass of which I have two favorites; Pennisetum alopecuroides "Moudry" (Black Flowering Fountain Grass) and Pennisetum alopecuroides "Little Bunny" (Little Bunny Dwarf Fountain Grass). Black flowering fountain grass is 24" tall and has unusually dark colored seed heads in late summer/early fall. Little Bunny is 6" tall in flower and should be planted in mass so it will not get lost in your garden. Both plants have the characteristic fountain grass seed head, with Little Bunny's being only 1" long instead of 6 - 12" of the normal fountain grass.

In the blue spectrum I have four grasses that are worthwhile. The first is Agropyron megallanicum (Blue Wheat Grass). This 12" plant has a silvery-blue color which will work well when cross-planted with Artemesia "Silver Mound". The blue that you will most likely see at your local garden center will be that of the Blue Fescue, Festuca cinerea. The best cultivar of this is "Elijah Blue". Its powdery blue color and clumping habit will make this a necessity in any garden. The third blue is Helichtotrichon sempervirens (Blue Oat Grass). This 24" plant has the same silvery blue as the wheatgrass, but it is taller and more upright. A massing of Blue oat grass will attract your eye to that part of the garden that may be colorless in between flowering periods of other perennials. Panicum virgatum "Heavy Metal" (Heavy Metal Switch Grass) is a stiff, upright grass that will grow to 4 - 5' and has a metallic blue color. Just as with the flame grass, Heavy Metal will draw your eyes to that section of your property.

There are two red grasses that can be mentioned; one is Imperata cylindrica "Red Baron" (Japanese Blood Grass). This plant can be used for massing, where its red coloration will be a good border plant, especially in front of green conifers. This 12" plant does need full sun for good coloration, and it can also be a tad finicky in the winter, so don't believe the Zone 5 classification. The second is Pennisetum rubrum (Red Fountain Grass), an annual that has red foliage and flower spikes, the latter will turn a cream color in the fall. This plant will grow to 24" tall.

Variegated varieties of ornamental grasses only seem to add to the wonder of them. A perfect example of this is Miscanthus sinensis 'Cabaret' (Cabaret Japanese Silver Grass), which has wide, ribbon-like foliage with milky white striped centers. It grows to 6' tall and is topped by copper colored flowers in mid September. "Cabaret" does need to be cut down in the fall, since this particular variety is notorius for shedding it's leaves all over the place. Carex hachiojensis 'Evergold' (Evergold Japanese Sedge) is distinguished by bright creamy yellow, center striped leaves with an arching habit. This 12 - 16" plant will brighten any shady area in your garden, whether planted as a specimen or in mass. The bright yellow - green linear stripe along light green leaves gives Alopecurus pratensis var. aureus (Yellow Foxtail Grass) an almost lime green appearance. The 6-8" Yellow Foxtail makes a good filler and spiller, especially mixed in with spring bulbs. Miscanthus sinensis 'strictus' (Porcupine Grass) has unique horizontal golden banding that will grow to 4'.

So next time you are at a Garden Center looking for plant material, keep ornamental grasses in the back of your head as well. A good garden needs more than just an explosion of color!