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Easy to grow and live with, a dozen grass look-alikes.

Easy to grow and live with, a dozen grass look-alikes

The true grasses and sedges (reported on page 106 of last month's Sunset) are not the only plants that give a grassy effect.

All the plants shown and listed here produce clumps of narrow, grass-like foliage. Most, in fact, are sturdy iris and lily relatives, making them as easy to grow as they are easy to live with.

Leaves come in all shades of green--also bronze and green-and-white striped. Some kinds are soft textured and drape gracefully; others, with stiffer blades, give crisp lines to mixed plantings. Six of the 12 also provide colorful blossoms that last well in cut-flower arrangements.

Use any of these perennials singly or in groups to add strappy-leafed texture to flower beds, shrub borders, and rock gardens. For punctuation, cluster three to five in a carpet of low-growing ground cover--or line them up to soften edges of walkways. Many also tuck attractively into rocks around pools or ponds.

All can be propagated by division. In fall or spring, lift well-filled clumps, break or cut sections apart, and replant.

Acorus (A. gramineus "Variegatus') grows in leafy tufts that resemble miniature iris. Slender, white-edged leaves are 8 to 10 inches tall; flowers are inconspicuous. It spreads by surface-rooting rhizomes. Give it sun or part shade and moist, even boggy, soil. It's fine for water gardens, near ponds or streams. Sometimes sold as a dish-garden plant.

Agapanthus. Dwarf varieties (A. "Peter Pan'), with blue or white flowers, are most grass-like; full-size kinds have bulkier foliage. Long-lasting cut flowers. Almost any soil, sun or shade. Not hardy; a pot plant where winters are cold.

Crocosmia (C. crocosmiiflora and C. masoniorum) has bright green, 2- to 3-foot leaves. Tall sprays of orange, red, and yellow flowers are striking in arrangements. It's self-sufficient and naturalizes easily. Give full sun near coast, some shade inland. Plant from containers now or from corms in spring.

Moraea (fortnight lily; Dietes vegeta) bears flat, white flowers atop narrow dark green clumps 4 feet high and equally wide. It's a tough plant in mild areas, and widely available. Plant in full sun or some shade, in average soil.

Daylily (Hemerocallis), a favorite for perennial borders, also groups well around pools and streams. Graceful clumps stand 1 to 3 feet high and wide. Lily-like flowers, in all shades of yellow, orange, peach, rust, are good for cutting. Grows well in most soils, in a sunny spot or with light shade.

Red-hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria) is named for its red-and-yellow, torch-shaped flower spikers. Hybrids offer coral, yellow, orange, ivory flowers; they're excellent for cutting. Relaxed, drooping foliage is 1 to 3 feet tall. It's unfussy, but needs sun and well-drained soil.

Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) forms small fountains (to 9 inches) of dark green leaves. Similar Liriope spicata is faster growing. Other related lily turfs include L. gigantea (to 3 feet high), L. muscari (to 18 inches with showy blue flower spikes), and cream- and white-striped L.m. "Variegata' and L.m. "Silvery Sunproof'. Plant in rich, moist soil. Give partial shade inland; takes sun near coast.

Flax (Phormium). Regular, bold-leafed kinds (with green, bronze, purple-red, or variegated foliage) get up to 10 feet high and wider--too big for small gardens. Hard-to-find dwarf kinds ("Maori Sunrise', "Surfer', "Thumbelina', "Yellow Wave') grow 1 to 3 feet tall, have bronze, yellow, or rose-red variegated leaves. Plant in almost any soil, with full sun or partial shade. Flax is frost-tender but will regrow in all but coldest areas.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) forms tussocks of bluish green leaves 4 to 16 inches high. Small blue star flowers form at leaf tips; similar S. californicum and S. macounii flower yellow and white, respectively. Give sun or light shade, average water. It's good for naturalizing and easily grown from seed.

Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea). Bluish green leaves fan out in 1- to 2-foot clumps; in mild climates, starry, rose-lavender flowers on slender stalks appear much of the year. "Silver Lace' has leaves that are gray-green with white. Fine for edging. Give full sun, average watering.

Watsonia (W. beatricis, W. pyramidata) produces big, open sprays of flowers (pink, white, lavender, peach, red) on 3- to 6-foot stems. Handsome cut flowers. Leaves are a rich green, strappy and upright. Plant from pots, or set out corms in fall. Give sun, moderate watering. Easily naturalized in mild areas.

Zephyr flower (Zephyranthes) has slender sprays of bright green rush-like foliage. Crocus-like flowers in pink, white, or yellow bloom on and off all year if you water, then let plants dry. Give full sun. Plant from pots, or plant bulbs fall to winter in mild areas and in spring in colder places.

Photo: Nursery visitor checks eight grass look-alikes (right). "Silver Lace' society garlic (below) has silvery leaves, long show of lavender flowers

Photo: A West Coast native, yellow-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium californicum) is an iris relative. Buds become 1/2-inch starry flowers

Photo: Grassy tufts of acorus (A. gramineus "Variegatus') soften pond's edge. Erect green-and-white foliage looks handsome with rocks and water
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1986
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