Landscape architect Sydney Baumgartner of Santa Barbara didn't invite Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) to share a pot occupied by a variegated ivy geranium. The intrepid blond-maned grass grew there on its own. Years ago, Baumgartner bought one plant of this freely self-sowing grass, and its offspring have been popping up in her garden ever since. Usually she rogues out the upstarts. But a seedling escaped her notice until it was well established. Baumgartner liked the serendipitous pairing so well she put it on a pedestal--a ceramic dragon salvaged from an old building. Then she framed the scene with aeoniums and a chartreuse-leafed geranium.
With their soft textures and flowing lines, some ornamental grasses make ideal pot plants, says Baumgartner. "To show them off, try to situate them where they'll be backlit by morning or late-afternoon light," she advises. Keep plantings simple. Grasses look better solo or paired with a plain foliage plant that has a contrasting shape, like a geranium, ivy, or vinca.
Other grasses with showy seed heads that shine in the sun include Miscanthus sinensis, Moor grass (Molinia caerulea), palm grass (Setaria palmifolia), and Pennisetum. These grasses are becoming more readily available in nurseries. A good mail-order source with a wide selection is Digging Dog Nursery, Box 471, Albion, CA 95410; (707) 937-1130.