Small Ornamental Grasses

Small Ornamental Grasses

Small grasses, such as mondo, liriope, and blue fescue add color and texture to landscapes. 
I’ve never been a lawn person. Sure, I like how a lawn looks, how it frames a house or acts as a foil for a garden. But I’m not obsessed, as many people are, with a seamless green lawn. In fact, when I see fuzzy yellow dandelions or the shining dollar weed disks in my front yard, my first thought isn’t “off with their heads!” It’s more like “wow, how pretty.”

And while I won’t wax poetic about the perfect lawn, I do like the nice little carpets of ornamental grasses, especially the small fries such as mondo grass, liriope, and blue fescue that add textural color and ornamental flourish to small spaces.

In my travels last year, the charms of little grasses kept catching my attention. I was wandering through the amazing San Francisco Botanic Garden and I found myself enchanted with a textural island of dwarf lilyturf (Ophiopogon japonicus), also known as mondo grass. The clumps of grasses were planted about 6 inches apart, and their shaggy, slightly swirling growth make the foliage look like stream eddies surrounding a stone water basin. What a cool textural trick--clever and peaceful all at the same time.  

I also spied the talents of small grasses in a street-side garden in Minneapolis. Swirling mounds of ‘Frosted Curls’ sedge (Carex comans) were bedded out in blocks next to coleus and kale, creating an exciting trio of texture and color. And then again, later in the summer, I found myself looking down and smiling at the massed mondo grasses at the base of a bench -- another happy little lawn, kicking up texture.

So, I guess I do like lawns after all…of ornamental grasses.

Here are more favorite ornamental grasses that grow about a foot or less tall.  

Mondo grass grows 12 to 18  inches tall; dwarf mondo grass grows 4 to 6 inches tall

Everest sedge grows 10 inches tall

Elijah Blue Blue Fescue reaches 12 inches tall

Lucerne Blue Eyed Grass grows 12 inches tall

Variegated lirope features grape hyacinth-like flowers and grows 9 to 15 inches tall

Written by Karen Weir-Jimerson