Daddy was the one with whom I always talked flowers. He’d ask, “Have you seen the crape myrtles? Did you see the purple one?” or “How did your amaryllises do this year?” They were all sources of beauty and pleasure to him, as they are to me. He was the one who came home with flats of annuals to border the walks. Mother was more concerned about feeding her seven children.

One day I mentioned to Daddy that the broomsedge that grows in the fields around home was being planted in my part of the country in people’s yards. “Why would they do that?” he wanted to know.

“They think it’s pretty,” I answered. “It’s called ornamental grass.” Daddy had always considered it a troublesome weed in his pastures. When I was a child, our brooms were made of this sedge. Mother always gathered a sizeable bundle whenever the old broom wore out. She’d gather it tightly and tie it securely with twine. Then she’d shake the smithereens out of it. She’d be standing in the middle of a cloud of seeds as they floated all around in response to her shaking. For several weeks the house would have seeds floating about as we swept the floor.

This simple broomsedge has a fancy name, Andropogon virginicus, or broomsedge bluestem. The professors throw it around casually and the listener seldom suspects that they’re talking about broomsedge. Ornamental grasses are gaining in popularity as landscape plants. The term usually refers not only to true grasses but also to sedges and rushes that are grasslike. Leona Venettozzi, noted horticulturist and teacher, reminds us, “Rushes have ridges while sedges have edges.”

All grass genera have individual species adapted to a wide variety of environments. Want a plant suited for a wet place; one for desertlike conditions; one for sun, shade, hot or cold; or any combination of the aforementioned? A grass will fill the bill. Want a tall plant, a groundcover, or somewhere in between? Try an ornamental grass, for there is one just exactly the size you need. Want something purple, silver, white, green, or red? Try an ornamental grass. As a matter of fact, they are dynamic garden features that change in size, color, texture, and shape over the season. They also add movement and sound to the garden in a way that few plants can.

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