Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Striped Giant Reed

arundo-donax-peppermint-stick-closer-640

 

Ten feet tall, with two-foot leaves widely-bordered in white.  No ornamental grass provides more of a show!  'Peppermint Stick' is the ne plus ultra of variegated grasses.  It's the tallest, with the biggest leaves and the broadest stripes.  

 

Yes, there are plenty of other big striped grasses, including variegated Miscanthus and even variegated Phragmites.  They can get  six, eight, and ten feet tall, too.  But compared to 'Peppermint Stick' they look delicate and demur.  Of course, there's a big place in any garden for "delicate and demur."  And if your garden isn't to be a cacophonous assault, only a very few of its plants should ever be as intense as 'Peppermint Stick'. 

 

So grow it only in one of your most important and focal locations.  I keep mine in a pot (see "How to Grow It" below) and, duh, only realized this season that the only space important enough for it was at one end the central axis that defines my entire gardens.

 

arundo-donax-peppermint-stick-westward-640

 

Looking westward to the other end of the axis from the Arundo clump, you'll need to pass under the rose pergola, then down (past the orange step ladder) between the Winter, Red, and then the Pink borders, and then over the seventy-foot reflecting pool that's bordered to the north by a two-hundred-foot Yellow border—and then another fifty feet or so to the only other living thing that's so important it needed to anchor this axis:  A giant sequoia.

 

'Peppermint Stick' is a sugary name, but there's nothing twee or inconsequential about the plant itself.

 

 

Here's how to grow this dramatic ornamental grass:

Latin Name

Arundo donax 'Peppermint Stick'

Common Name

Striped Giant Reed

Family

Poaceae, the Grass family.

What kind of plant is it?

Perennial grass.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 9

Habit

Strongly upright, with broad corn-like leaves alternating up the thick canes.   Flowering plumes emerge at the tip of each cane.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

To twelve feet tall and half that as wide.  The clump slowly but diligently increases, though, so eventually a colony will be wider than tall.

Texture

Big-boned and bodacious.  There's nothing small or shy about this grass, whether in overall size or in detail.  The thick canes, broad and long leaves, and self-supporting height are all strongly reminiscent of corn, albeit corn with fabulously white-striped leaves and no ears.

Grown for

its foliage: Arundo leaves are nearly two feet long and just shy of two inches wide.  The leaves of 'Peppermint Stick' have broad white margins and, usually, additional but narrower stripes in the central blue-green portion.  Unlike A. donax 'Variegata', 'Peppermint Stick' stays bright the entire season instead of fading out by August.

 

its size: Arundo is the tallest herbaceous grass.  (Bamboos are grasses, too, and there are plenty of them that are taller.)  Variegated Arundo is the largest striped grass.

 

its toughness:  Arundo grows in standing water as well as in regular garden beds.  No animals or bugs bother it.

 

its rarity:  Arundo never sets viable seed; the species' spread has been entirely by division and natural increase.  Arundo is impossible, then, to hybridize, which inherently involves cross-pollination to produce viable seed.  The few cultivars (see "Variants" below) are spontaneously-arising mutations.  By comparison, there are several score of cultivars of the next-biggest ornamental grass, Miscanthus, with new ones hybridized yearly.  The diversity champ for grasses, though, is probably rice, with over forty thousand cultivars and counting.   

Flowering season

Early autumn:  Late October here in Rhode Island, frost permitting.  As I write today on October 12, there's still no sign of the plumes.

Culture

Full sun and any reasonable soil, from normal to heavy.  Especially eager in bogs and even shallow water.

How to handle it

'Peppermint Stick' is so powerfully variegated that it needs a correspondingly primo spot.  It draws your gaze wherever it is, to be sure to site it where you'd actually like people to look.  

 

The lowest leaves on the stalks inevitably turn brown, so it's also good to have dense and mounding plants that get three or four feet tall in front.  The variegation is so bright that you don't need to worry about adding flowers to the composition.  Regardless of whether their color were in harmony with the grass's sedate palette of white and blue-green, flowers would still be outgunned by the variegation's vivid geometry.  Coordinating foliage is the way to go.  In front, broad leaves of some other big-leaved plant that loves rich soil and loads of water:  What about the shorter kinds of elephant ears, or sun-tolerant hostas?  In back, dark foliage would make the bright 'Peppermint Stick' foliage even more striking.  Southern magnolias are hardy, in one cultivar or another, everywhere 'Peppermint Stick' is.  (Use M. grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' is you're gardening north of New York City.)  And of course, if twenty years ago, you somehow thought to get a magnificently tall hedge of yews growing at the back of your Arundo colony (but on the well-drained terrain yews require), now's your time of triumph.  The contrast of the Arundo's large bright foliage and waving-in-the-wind mobility with the yew's fine-grained architectural solidity couldn't be better.  Bravo!

 

Below Zone 7, grow 'Peppermint Stick' in rich but well-drained soil; it's not likely to be hardy without excellent Winter drainage.  Don't cut old canes down until early Spring, but be careful to avoid damage to the tips of the fragile new canes while you're at it.  Do it early enough in Spring that the new canes are still just in the below-ground planning stage, not already erupted and above-ground.  Cutting the canes down in the Fall would seem to be the practical solution, except that the stumps you leave behind can create little pipelines to direct freezing water directly down to the roots of the plants, with increased colony mortality.  I speak from painful experience here.

 

Divide colonies only in Spring.  Ornamental grasses and bamboos don't appreciate root disturbance in the Fall.  

 

Arundo is also terrific growing in large containers that sit in fresh water.  Store the pot cool and frost-free over the Winter, and because it is frost-free, you can cut the old canes down to the ground before dragging the container into shelter.  Growing in containers spares you the onerous tasks of periodically digging out the perimeter of the colony (see "Downsides" below).  After the containered colony has established a couple of years, divide it each Spring: the growth from the newest rhizomes will be even taller than that from older rhizomes.   

Downsides

If only Arundo were a bit hardier.  It establishes in Zone 6 only with excellent drainage, which always helps Winter hardiness.  But this means that the plant doesn't reach the maximum height possible when it's growing in boggy ground. 

 

Arundo spreads slowly but relentlessly.  Reduction in colony size is best done in Fall so you don't risk damaging the new canes that start emerging in Spring.  It's a matter of stomping down through the rhizomes with a sharp spade, and then digging out the excess growth around the perimeter: Great exercise if you need more, otherwise, it's quite a chore.  I haven't noticed that older Arundo colonies thin out at the center, which is where the original starter-colony was and would have the oldest and most congested and, possibly, most exhausted roots.  If that were the case, you'd be faced with even more heavy-duty digging:  Chopping out the old heart—the bald spot, as it were—so that fresh new rhizomes can fill back in.    

Variants

The genetic profile of the species is bizarrely uniform world-wide; even if viable seed could be produced (either by the plants themselves or by would-be human hybridizers) the species doesn't have the genetic diversity in the first place that would make cross-pollination productive.  Even after several millenia of cultivation worldwide, then, there are strikingly few cultivars, which could only occur through spontaneous mutation. 

 

'Variegata' has similarly-striped leaves but the color fades almost entirely over the Summer.  'Golden Chain' is the newest in this exceedingly small cohort, with yellow striping instead of white. 

Availability

On-line and, very occasionally, at "destination" retailers.

Propagation

By division; Arundo does not produce viable seed.  

Native habitat

Arundo donax is native to eastern Asia; 'Peppermint Stick' was imported to North American from the Shanghai Botanic Garden.

 
 
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