The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Announcing perennial plant of the year

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Oscar, Grammy, Golden Globe - awards are everywhere and for just about anything. In the perennial plant world the ultimate award is the Plant of the Year. As far as I know there are no dinners, ceremonies or statues involved but this year's winner deserves all the accolades.

Golden hakone grass is not just another pretty face in the garden. Award winners are chosen by the members of the Perennial Plant Association for the plant's beauty, but also for its durability, suitability to a wide range of climate types, low maintenance, multiple seasonal interest, and easy growing nature.

Although its name doesn't roll off the tongue easily, golden hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola') does roll into a shady garden with ease. Most ornamental grasses whimper without sun but golden hakone grass is a beacon of light in a dark tunnel. The one half inch wide leaves are bright yellow with very thin green stripes. Imagine a golden cascading waterfall in a woodland garden. Some say it looks like a cascading miniature bamboo. The plants reach an easily used-size of 12-18 inches tall and 18-24 inches wide. As the days grow cooler in autumn the golden leaves are highlighted with a tinge of pink and red. Although it does produce tiny spikes of flowers, it is best used for its golden leaves.

The species is native to Honshu Island, Japan. Golden hakone grass is winter hardy to zone 5 so it does well for us. Golden hakone grass grows best in moist, organic rich, well-drained soil. It moans and snivels in poorly drained soil, heavy clay soil, or very dry soils. Partial shade is the ideal location. It will live in dense shade, but expect the leaves to be greener with less golden color. My only complaint is its slow growth the first few years; however, its neighboring plants will have no worries of a hostile take-over.

This shade tolerant grass has few insect or disease problems. It is not favored by deer but I have noticed rabbits enjoy a nibble. It requires little maintenance, other than removing the dead leaves in late winter or early spring.

Golden hakone grass deserves a home in many gardens. Its combination of golden leaves with green stripes makes it a fantastic companion to hostas especially those with a golden edge or a bluish cast to the leaves. Combine golden hakone grass with foam flowers (tiarellas) that tend to have darker venation in the fall, or any purple or dark leafed plant, particularly coralbells (heucheras).

Other good companion plants are astilbe, wild ginger, bleeding heart and lady's mantle. As a container plant, golden hakone grass adds color, texture and movement to any container as it billows around impatiens, begonias or coleus. As an edging plant it cascades into a path to draw visitors through the garden. This ornamental grass is an excellent addition to an Asian-style or tropical garden. For those gardeners who always go for the gold this is a medal winner in the garden.

The Perennial Plant Association (PPA) is a trade organization comprised of growers, retailers, educators, and garden writers that are dedicated to the improvement of perennial plants through education that enhances production, promotion and utilization of perennial plants. Thanks to PPA http://www.perennialplant.org/ for providing information.

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