Friday, June 13, 2008

Variegated Giant Reed...A Top 10 Accent Plant

There are two scary members of the grass family in this picture: Arundo donax variegata and that huge stand of bamboo. I remember the first time that I saw the variegated Giant Reed Grass; I was passing through Luray, Virginia somewhere around 1986 and I saw a 10' circle of what looked like the most colorful corn in the world and it was at least 10' high. Wow. Spectacular. I was aware of the straight species Arundo donax, a European native escaped and naturalized in fresh and brackish waters throughout North America. In other words a scary plant that would be best kept away from. It took em a year or so to figure out what I was looking at, but over that time, I fell in love. It is a wicked plant. Having failed to locate it in the marketplace for a few years, one day after a long, hot, laborious shift of gardening, Kyle Courtney and I returned to the headhouse sweaty and weary to find the Skip March had 2 plants, propagations of his, that he was giving away. I took one and wrongly, urged the other on Kyle. She took it and planted it on the margin of an infiltration basin in the community where she lived. Luckily it somehow passed away and didn't take over the pond.

Mine, planted in the gravelly sand in Adelphi, and lovingly tended, has survived these 20 years or so and delighted me every year. The dry sterility of the soil has prevented it from becoming a nuisance; it has stabilized to a point where it produces between 10 and 20 canes per year. (The canes are used to produce reeds for various woodwinds and parts for bagpipes.) Its on the west side of the back (south) garden so that the setting sun inflames the red flowers in Autumn. The variegation, here at its best, does viridiesce (turn green in the heat of summer). There is a cultivar that is supposed to keep its color all summer, but since I enjoy the provenance of my plant I will have to forego perfection.

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