Published July 12, 2012 | By Robert LaHoff
There are times in life when you know what the right thing to do is and you simply go the other way. I’m not talking about a moral compass here, but rather a gardening decision I made, for my own property, a few years ago. Despite repeated warnings from many respected colleagues in the horticultural field, I went forward to prove them all wrong. Simply smitten by the color and texture of Blue Lyme Grass, Elymus arenarius ‘Blue Dune’, I just had to have it in front of our boxwood wall at home. And so I went forth and planted it in the ground.
Many garden centers market this gorgeous perennial grass. And many people purchase Blue Lyme Grass and put in their gardens. However, I’m not sure how many of those people actually know the potential of this aggressive grass. While many people seem to share my affinity for the bold grass, whenever I sell it at our garden center I try to warn those interested of the “borderline invasiveness” of Elymus ‘Blue Dune’.
Blue Lyme Grass has striking, flat silver-blue foliage and is a standout in any landscape. An excellent groundcover, Blue Lyme Grass spreads quickly by underground rhizomes. Typical spacing on this plant is every 2-3 feet apart. I myself followed this advice and watched as it engulfed a portion of my property in one season. More on that later though. Best situated in full sun to part shade, this dramatic herbaceous grass is “hardy” from zones 4-9. Once established, Blue Lyme Grass needs little attention. Very fast growing to about 2 feet tall, flowers are held another foot above this in late summer. It is these flower spikes that have always captivated me. Reminiscent of wheat blowing in the wind, to me, these arching flowers turn beige by summers end. For those of you movie buffs out there, if you remember the last scene of the 2000 movie ‘Gladiator’ with Russell Crowe, he runs his hand through tall blades of wheat with Italian Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens, in the background. That scene reminds me of the flower heads on our own Blue Lyme Grass.
Back to the questionable decision to use this perennial grass, in mass, at our own home. Prior to me planting some 35 of these beauties, I purchased and installed a bamboo barrier. Bamboo barrier is a high-density polyethylene plastic sheet that was 60 mil (0.060 inches) thick and 30 inches tall. A highly effective tool to control the spread of running types of bamboo or other aggressive plants, here was my answer to prove it could be done. Not inexpensive or light, almost 1pound per foot, this has done the trick despite my skeptics. Trust me the hardest part of the planting was the installation of the bamboo barrier. I rented a trencher and had the help of several friends to create, essentially, a huge outdoor, underground planter that was bottomless. The thick plastic acts like the walls of a container only submerged underground. Two years later, I have proven that with enough effort you can overcome the expected. However, I will say this, occasionally I have gone in and thinned the herd, so to speak, so as to keep the color and aesthetics I envision. In addition, a trick I learned at the New York Botanical Gardens, I kept 2 inches of the bamboo barrier above the soil line so the plant would not jump over the designed planter and into unwanted territory.
A grass used to help control soil erosion on embankments benefits from an occasional haircut during the growing season to encourage new foliage. Particularly useful in coastal areas, Blue Lyme Grass withstands heat, sand and drought. Heavier clay soils are said to slow the plant down… not at my home! Consider planting this grass in copper containers, by your pool or patio, for a truly stunning effect. Pair the metallic silver-blue foliage with pale yellows, pinks and blues for outstanding combinations too. Finally, the plant is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will thrive in inner city environments. Never were truer words spoken! I used this plant, several years ago, at Dimaio’s Restaurant in Berkeley Heights, NJ. Surrounded by macadam, Belgian block and vehicular traffic, they continue to thrive to this day. Virtually no soil, extreme heat radiating from the parking lot, a fence behind them and curbing in front, these tough buggers are still going strong.
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