Rustling in the slightest breeze, the huge green globes of ornamental grasses are the essence of summer. But it is in autumn, when their seed heads bloom and their colors shift to amber and gold, that they are the most stunning.
We have fallen in love with the beauty of ornamental grasses in the past decade, but as gardeners we may still feel a little unsure about using them.
Now, if you're among those who don't know a miscanthus from a pennisetum, there's help. Kurt Bluemel of Bluemel Nurseries in Baldwin has created a video guide to ornamental grasses.
The video, "Grass," begins with a basic introduction to ornamental grasses and how they are used in the landscape. But then the core of the video, which was made for Bluemel Nurseries by Megavideo of New York, is a slide dictionary of the 50 most common grasses.
They are categorized by size, starting with small and middle-sized grasses and finishing with the tallest ones -- the ones that are often used as accent plants or as summer privacy screens.
The narration describes each grass, gives its size, its blooming time and its sun or shade requirements.
"It has been rather successful because there's so little pictorial documentation of ornamental grasses," Mr. Bluemel says.
Kurt Bluemel was one of the pioneers in introducing ornamental grasses to this country. A native of Czechoslovakia displaced by World War II, he came to appreciate ornamental grasses while working for a large perennial nursery in Switzerland.
"I was fascinated then by the grasses," he says. "Compared to perennials they were much more usable in the landscape.
He began importing grasses into this country in the early 1960s and then incorporated the grasses he was growing into his own landscape design business. But in 1980 he decided to change the emphasis of his business from landscaping toward growing. Now his wholesale and retail nursery focuses on grasses and perennials.
"It took a good 20 years to popularize grasses and a lot of people were involved," he says, and gives credit also to Richard Simon of Bluemount Nurseries in Monkton and Towson landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme of Oehme, van Sweden and Associates in Washington.
The ornamental grass video is a companion effort to a full-color poster produced by Bluemel Nurseries that shows 40 different grasses.
"Grass" is available on VHS and Beta for $30 including shipping. You can order it directly or send $2 for the complete retail catalog from Bluemel Nurseries. The address is Kurt Bluemel Nurseries Inc., 2740 Green Lane, Baldwin, Md. 21013.