Advice needed for small commercial border

Kansas, IL(Zone 5b)

Hello, All!

I am fairly new to Dave's Garden and a brand new MG. This last year I planted a border at an intersection in town for a project. I was trying to go for a strictly tallgrass prairie type planting, but had a hard time finding enough native species plants at the time.

I ended up planting Prairie Sun Rudbekia, Indian Summer Rudbekia, three different Echinacea, two different Liatris, Veronica, Blanket Flower, and a feather grass... Can't think of the exact grass off hand.

This is on an island of turf, surrounded by asphalt. I have to use three extensions of 25' hose to water, so whatever I plant there has to be low maint. and drought tolerant.

I was not happy with the Rudbekia due to powdery mildew and the blanket flower was not tolerant enough to look its best.

I have been thinking of trying the AAS "Purple Majesty" millet. Does anyone have any input as far as how this might do in an area such as this? It also will be somewhat subject to wind.

Any other recommendations? I do not want to have to water at all once the plants are established unless absolutely necessary. I am in zone 5.

Thank You!

Oops! Upon previewing, I see that this is the WRONG picture! Not sure how to remove that, LOL!

Thumbnail by Ruminantia
Kansas, IL(Zone 5b)

Here is the picture I meant to post. This is still early in the season before it had filled out. In addition to possibly trying the 'Purple Majesty' millet, I would like to add some more height and movement with other clumping ornamental grasses.

Any thoughts on Russian Sage? I have seen this used commercially, but was wondering about how well it behaves?

thanks again!

Thumbnail by Ruminantia
Northern, NJ(Zone 6b)

I would try posting on the Indigenous Plants forum an DG for places to buy native grasses. There are some knowledgeable members from your area that post regularly on that site.
There is a public space planting in a town near me that fits your criteria. One of the most spectacular sights in the fall is when the Amsonia hubrichtii willow like leaves turn yellow, it also has pretty blue spring flowers on a 3 ft soft mound.. This plant massed in front of Switch grass (Panicum virgatum)5-6ft., is outstanding, the cultivar "Heavy Metal" has a nice blue cast to the leaves and is very upright in form but there are many other cultivars that are nice. My favorite grass is Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) particularly the cultivar "The Blues", it turns lovely pink tones in the fall and has a more delicate finer look.
Another spring flowering drought tolerant plant is Baptisia australis (false indigo) that blooms blue or violet and forms a large shrub like plant .There are also white and yellow forms of Baptisia available. Decorative pods form and last until early winter . I even like the curled charcoal leaves after a frost in front of the winter golden stems of Switch Grass.
Penstemon digitalis "Husker Red" - spring blooming wonderful long lasting seed heads look good later with Black eyed Susan
Coreopsis verticillata "Zagreb"
Solidago (Goldenrod)
The photo shows the Baptisia with pods with Switch Grass in August.

Thumbnail by sempervirens
Kansas, IL(Zone 5b)


Lovely! I see the Baptisia in the front of the photo. I actually have some at home and hadn't thought of it for the border in town. I have read that it doesn't like to be moved and that it is very hard to propagate from seed, so I guess I will have to buy one!!
I will look into the other plants you suggested. I really appreciate your input. The big thing is funding so this may take awhile. As time goes on, I may have to expand into the rest of the island. I think it will be just grand in a few years (if I am lucky enough to have it turn out like your photo). Do you know how many years in the making the border in your photo is?

Novato, CA

In my 4 years of planting Purple majesty millet it was a complete dud and I garden in an area that is suppose to be perfect for it.
It would not even touch the bottom of my list.

Judging from your picture I would make these recommendations.
MORE PLANTS. - like four times the amount that you have planted.
That is, if you want to make a statement, otherwise the island will just look plain anemic.

If you are going for the Bold Romantic look pioneered by Oehme and Sweden then order about 40 ornamental grasses such as Pennesetum sectaceum rubra and mix it up with some hardy perennial long blooming low maintenance perennial such as shasta daisy or self clean carpet roses - order about 20 or 30 of them.

A little height anchored at each end of the bed will add some architectural stature. Perhaps a small native tree to your area or something that blooms all summer long like two Buddleas or Cotinus or flowering pears.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

Russian Sage can get rather out of control and unkempt over time. It was recently removed from a building foundation planting at our local town hall because of it's unrulyness. Miscanthus Sinensis "Morning Light" is a gorgeous grass, that once established requires little care other than cutting back the dead top in early spring. It is very attractive year around. It is a taller grass. I have it in my garden and it is a stunning specimen. Another grass that is shorter and has year round interest is Carex Buchananii. There are several cultivars. You have to be careful with this one though. One cultivar reseeds prolifically and is a nuisance. "Red Rooster" is a reddish pink that glows when the sun hits it. It does not reseed. There are various zone ratings for this grass. I have it here in Zone 5 and it is a trooper. It receives comments for the reddish pink glow year around. The Carex's are native to New Zealand however. Rudbeckia fulgida "Goldstrum" is mildew resistant and tough. It also blooms it's head off. I've never seen it with any mildew.

I can see the purple of Liatris spicata, flanked by the red/pink of "Red Rooster" against a backdrop of blue/silver "Morning Light".

Northern, NJ(Zone 6b)

Hi Ruminanita,
The border in the my first photo is always in flux but in it's current state some plants have been planted this year and others like the Baptisia are3 yrs. old.The Switch grass are all 1 yr. old divisions from larger clumps. I think you can have a decent native grass based garden using inexpensive grass plugs in 3 yrs..The Baptisia seeds prolifically usually within a few feet of the mother plant) and plants can be successfully moved the 1st year before it establishes the 3ft root. Try winter sowing the Baptisia if your seeds don't germinate. Both the native Switch grass (Panicum virgatum) and Little Bluestem (Schizarizachyrium scoparium) are well behaved grasses. I do have the native Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) also but this might seed too much for my small garden. My neighbor has planted a few clumps of Miscanthus Sinensis and as beautiful as this grass is I'd like to rip out their plants because I repeatedly have to remove this grass from my garden because it is a spreading nuisance in my zone. Research the grasses carefully for your zone.
I would urge you to try a environmentally friendly mostly native planting but that is my preference, everyone chooses their own type of gardening.
That said I have seen a lovely small commercial planting in a parking lot of red roses, they look like the small fairy roses, and a small silvery blue clump forming grasses like Elijah Blue, for a stunning easy to maintain look.
I wish I had taken photos of the various public plantings to show you.

This is another photo of the same area in August showing the reddish haze from the seed heads of Penstemon "Husker Red" which seeds easily and can be moved around to fill the space. I also use Siberian red kale ( quickly breaking my own rule of native plants) as a self seeding filler plant . Some of the penstemon and kale are growing through cracks in the asphalt so I would say they are very drought tolerant.

Thumbnail by sempervirens
Northern, NJ(Zone 6b)

Penstemon in bloom in June.

Thumbnail by sempervirens
(Judith) Denver, CO(Zone 5b)

I much prefer the switch grasses to the miscanthus and pennisetum for public planting unless you have a gigantic area. The little bluestem is great too. You could plant with centranthus ruber, agastache, lavendula, penstemon, salvia for medium sized color, and if you wanted a clump-like plant you might try caryopteris. You could use oenothera for low color plants. Carpet roses are perfect. One place to look for grasses is High Country Gardens. You don't have to live in high altitude to make use of this site.

Kansas, IL(Zone 5b)

Thanks All for your help. I should have plenty to think about for awhile. To summarize the suggestions thus far:

Amsonia hubrichtii, Switch grass (Panicum virgatum) cultivar "Heavy Metal" and other cultivars, Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) cultivar "The Blues", Baptisia australis (false indigo), Penstemon digitalis "Husker Red", with Black eyed Susan,Coreopsis verticillata "Zagreb", Solidago (Goldenrod)

Pennesetum sectaceum rubra,mixed with shasta daisy or self clean carpet roses,
Buddleas, Cotinus or flowering pears. Buddleias would be nice. I recently read about a new compact or dwarf(?) cultivar that would be worth finding out more for this border.

Miscanthus Sinensis "Morning Light", Carex Buchananii "Red Rooster",
Rudbeckia fulgida "Goldstrum", Liatris spicata (already existing).

preferably the switch grasses to the miscanthus and pennisetum, little bluestem, with centranthus ruber, agastache, lavendula, penstemon, salvia, caryopteris, oenothera, Carpet roses.

As I have the time I will certainly investigate each of these suggestions. Deviant_deziner: the bed is pretty small right now. I would love to have room for the number of plants you mentioned, but it may take a few years. I will take out more of the lawn as I am able. Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the border when it had completely filled in, but there were enough plants in there to crowd each other. ( I tend to plant things too closely) BTW, in the first post I forgot to mention the Cardinal flower (lobelia).

I do have some things in my own garden that I may move there, that ARE native prairie plants: Partridge Pea, Stiff goldenrod, yellow coneflower, etc. I also have some unknown pennisetum. This and all of your other suggestions will give me plenty to think about for the next few months!

Thanks much!

Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

One other thought as far as design goes, which you may have already considered.

It is hard to tell in first picture exactly how the island is situated at the intersection, but if it is in the middle there should be a clear view of traffic going in all other directions.

This would keep things safe and keep people from complaining.


Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

Good point davidmk - in traffic areas driver line of sight is extremely important.

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