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A Red Head to make other ornamental grasses green with envy

Penniesetum ‘Red Head’

John Statham/Handout

Plant of the week

Pennisetum "Red Head"

Why you should plant it

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Almost every garden can be enhanced by an ornamental grass. Here's one that is new to me: Pennisetum "Red Head," which comes through winters in fine fettle (even cold ones). This clumping grass does well in part sun (even just morning sun), unlike many grasses that need full sun – and its inflorescence at this time of year is radiant.

Where to plant it

This is a late-season grass, which means there is no growth until late May. It makes a good companion for spring bulbs because it has an arching form from the middle of the plant, which will hide all the detritus from yellowing foliage. Plant in part shade to sun, in just about any soil. It will eventually become drought-tolerant. Give it space – it grows at least one metre wide and up to 1.5 metres tall.

What it offers

Adding a lot of grasses to a garden can make it look like an unruly hayfield, but one or two, chosen judiciously, will animate a winter landscape with movement. I love ornamental grasses, but they are used so badly by lazy designers that they've become a cliché. I hope it doesn't happen to this one. It has such ravishing moments when backlit in early-morning or late-afternoon sun. Think about placing it to make the most of its beauty. This is my last column for the season; I'll see you back here in the spring!

Source and cost

Find it at nurseries such as John's Garden Centre in Uxbridge, Ont. (, for $8 for a one-gallon plant.

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