There is no question this past winter was one for the record books. A winter that held its grip on us until April, and then came the rain in April and May. Plant material was thrown completely off cycle and storm damage took its toll on larger deciduous trees and conifers. Customers came into our garden center every day asking for advice on how best to stake or replant their larger trees that toppled out of the ground. Many were left frustrated with the cavities Mother Nature left in their gardens. And most, it seemed, were quick to rip out any plant, big or small, that didn’t bounce back quickly.
Ornamental grasses were one of those plants many were frustrated with. Customers showed me pictures of their grasses sprouting around their edges while the interior seemed lost. Mindful that most grass types need heat to get going, I tried to reiterate that to our customers. I myself started to lose faith in a particular grass type planted at our home, black mondo grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus. We have two cultivars of black mondo grass on our property ‘Nigrescens’ and ‘Edge of Night,’ both, I believed were lost as June approached.
‘Nigrescens’ is a perennial groundcover with soft, grass-like leaves that are jet black. ‘Nigrescens’ texture, spikes of pale pink flowers and prolific black berries in the fall has always held my attention. This durable, easy to grow grass is popular at our garden center, particularly when we combine it in planters with small gourds and baby pumpkins in the fall. Our small collection of black Mondo grass, at our home, was actually from a reclamation project last fall. Braunschweiger Jewelers is a jewelry store with two locations in New Providence and Morristown, New Jersey. We have been doing business with this family for nearly 3 decades. About 10 years ago they were looking for large planters to put inside their store filled with an interesting plant. Black mondo grass quickly came to mind as I thought that gold and silver would only amplify this plant type. Never did I expect this plant to live indoors for nearly a decade in those pots? Situated near large windows with artificial light above and only minimal water, this plant exceeded everyone’s expectations. After 10 years and needing a change, the owners of Braunschweiger asked us to replace their beloved black mondo grass. We took it away and I decided to reintroduce it to a more natural setting in our garden, complete with New Jersey’s four extreme seasons. After 10 years inside a storefront, and after our long and bitterly cold winter, the plants I installed in late October began to show life in June. Convinced they were lost and nearly forgotten, tucked beneath two inches of mulch, it wasn’t until we finally got around to planting our annual pots, in our backyard, did I see them poke their heads up through the mulch.
The same holds true for ‘Edge of Night!’ A white edged black mondo grass also hardy to zone 5: -10°F through -20°F, this rare and equally slow to divide grass is a real stunner in our garden. “This is one of those ‘tongue on the floor’ plants for plant nerds like me” (plantlust.com)! Outer white margins on long, slender leaves, are subtle, yet stunning. Also planted late October, but not part of that interior landscape, I thought winter had taken these from us too? Again, that was until we planted our coleus in the shade in June.
Sometimes we can be a bit impetuous with our actions. Quick to make hasty decisions because our expectations have not been met in a more immediate form. Perhaps a sign of our culture today perpetuated by our electronic devices, life moves way to fast now. Gardening, like many other interests, requires hard work, dedication and careful watchfulness. Thoughtful learning through improved judgements, “A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself”-May Sarton. And “patience is a flower that grows not in everyone’s garden”-Italian Proverb.