Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Molinia caerulea 'Variegata' is my favorite plant in the garden, this week...

The full name of this grass is actually Molinia caerulea ssp. caerulea 'Variegata', and the common name of variegated purple moor grass really isn't much shorter. But this lovely ornamental grass is a beautiful and tough performer in my garden that I never want to be without.

New foliage emerging in April is a welcome bright spot in a normally wet garden. This spring there were plenty of sunny days to capture the sun shining through the fresh young shoots.

In May the foliage is lush and cool, yet bright. 

Two clumps in the rock garden soften the stones.
 Variegated purple moor grass makes up a substantial component of the island in the middle of the driveway. It was a later edition than many of the other plants in this bed, but it works wonderfully with the many purples and burgundies in this bed. It also doesn't appear too busy with the chartreuse foliage. I think it would also look smashing with blue flowers and foliage, which I'm planning to add in the form of Acaena anserinifolia 'Blue Haze' and Veronica 'Tidal Pool' or a similar veronica. These two plants are part of my plan to add low-growing, evergreen groundcovers to help suppress weeds in this bed and reduce maintenance.

 Allium christophii has a silvery tone that matches especially well with variegated purple moor grass.
It also makes a wonderful backdrop for Salvia 'Ostfriesland' (East Friesland), though the salvias could use a little more room. Since taking this photo, the grass has almost swamped the salvia.

It makes a wonderful pairing with red or burgundy foliage, like these 'Crimson Pygmy' barberries.


By the end of June, the creamy yellow flower stalks emerge and open to reveal purple anthers, providing the source of the "purple" in purple moor grass.

Here you can see how the grass has overtaken the salvia. The salvia is even leaning over with the flower spikes curving back up. On the left you can see an old bloom of Allium christophii. The developing seed capsules match the color of the stems on the grass.
The one feature I don't have a picture of to share with you is the fall color, which is a beautiful pale yellow that glows in the fall sunlight and even on gloomy days. The flower stalks remain upright through most of the winter but can be beaten down by heavy snow or a particularly bad storm if it hits late in winter. By the end of winter the base of the stems have weakened to the point where they can be easily pulled by hand, leaving a clean base barely above ground level. No hacking at old stems to clean them up. This easy clean-up is the clincher in making this one of my favorite ornamental grasses.

The stats on variegated purple moor grass:

  • Hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4-9
  • Height 1-2.5 feet, slightly wider
  • Flowers July-September
  • Medium to high water requirements. Drought tolerant in the PNW.
  • Does not appreciate hot summer climates
  • Very low maintenance
  • Said to be slow-growing, my plants have grown plenty fast enough to create full specimens in a reasonable amount of time.



My favorite plant in the garden this week is hosted by Danger Garden. Click on over to see what fantastic plant has caught her eye this week and check the comments to see other gardeners' favorites this week.

6 comments:

  1. I was going to ask about the Purple in the name, but it became clear at the end.
    I love grasses with one exception: re-seeding. How is the Molinia in this regard? I've been favoring Japanese forest grass: its very successful in my garden and do not spread volunteers everywhere.

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  2. You had me hooked until you said "does not appreciate hot summer climates." Oh well, it looks a little like Carex oshimensis 'Evergold,' which I can grow...

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  3. I love its appearance while in flower!

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  4. And I think you might have just solved a mystery in my garden. I've got a grass that I can't name and it's the only one Lila will eat when she feels the "must eat grass now" tug in the tummy. Looks just like. This and the stats seems to fit...

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  5. I love this grass...one of my favorite plants...unfortunately, our neighbor's chickens love it even more and are constantly nibbling the leaves. Still, it's beautiful and if they'll just leave it alone for a while, hopefully it will be able to bulk up and look as nice as yours :-) Have you tried any other Molinia varieties? I'm particularly smitten with the very tall ones ('Skyracer', 'Cordoba'), but there are some really lovely mid-sized ones too ('Strahlenquelle', 'Moorflamme') that have great texture and are also super-tough.

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