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  • Writer's pictureHelen Newling Lawson

Muhly Grass for #NoFilter Picture-perfect Deer-Resistant Gardens

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

This is the moment I wait for, folks.

The moment when my pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) bathes my tired, summer-battered garden in a hazy sheen of gorgeousness.

Northern sea oats

I have been admittedly slow about incorporating grasses into my garden, but honestly, I'm not terribly motivated to reach much farther than this one. I did add in some Karl Foerster's feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) this year, which I think is buried somewhere under all that lantana in the foreground. I'm also a fan of blue-eyed grass (Sysyrinchium angustifolium), which is a nice option if you're not really into the prairie look. And I do love me some Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) for a shady spot. But nothing gives me that warm glow inside to match the warm glow of the setting sun lighting up a clump of pink muhly grass from within.

White muhly grass

There's also white muhly grass, which has that great sparkle, too, but there's something about the rosy pink that does for my garden what the peach walls in my bathroom do for me.

So let's break down the other components of this deer-resistant design currently lighting up my front yard.

The foreground is all lantana - 'Chapel Hill Gold.' This one is very cold tolerant, and has been reliable about returning every year in my Zone 7b garden. It stays fairly low, but as mentioned is running a bit rampant over both the Karl Foerster grass and also a dwarf Alberta spruce, so I actually plan to cut it back a bit this afternoon.

'Ryan's Pink' Chrysanthemum

The pink-flowering plant mid-ground is a perennial chrysanthemum. This was passed along to me as being 'Ryan's Pink,' one of Ryan Gainey's finds. It also looks quite like Sheffield Pink and Venus, so maybe someone more knowledgeable can make a definitive ID in the comments section. This is running a close (very close) second in my heart right now as my favorite autumn plant in the garden.

The one out front seems to suffer from the same stunted growth as all the plants I've tried to grow there. I truly believe the builders must have dumped something there when the house was built 15 years ago. It actually helps keep the mum to a reasonably nice, compact shape in this case (without being sheared into a meatball like all the mums you see for sale right now - *shudder*). Here's another one passed along from the same source that has overtaken a 3-foot tall veggie support, and this is after being pinched back multiple times all summer.

The "structural" brown sticks are what remains of the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), allowed to go to seed in the hopes it will send up some volunteers next year. In its heyday, it offered up another pink flower to carry the pink and burgundy color scheme through summer. I have a photo somewhere -- if I can get through my photo cataloging this month and track it down I will add it in.

Not pictured, but located just behind this arrangement, was another plant I had hoped would help carry the color scheme through to richer tones of blackish-burgundy: 'Coppertina' ninebark

(Physocarpus). It started out really well, and bloomed beautifully. Unfortunately, at some point the deer found it, and did that thing they do where they leave just one or two branches to show you how big and striking it could have been. So the search continues for a reliable large shrub/small tree to help round this design out. Suggestions, anyone?

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