Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’

I’m still debating whether to include this grass in next year’s garden, but it’s occurred to me that what I consider its vices might be virtues for someone else.

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Say you can’t grow phormiums and you want a dark-leaved one really bad. (And this NOID phormium pictured above is nowhere near as dark as it gets, such as in ‘Black Adder.’)

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The Princess might make you forget all about phormium envy.

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The leaf blades are as wide as some phormiums and fairly stiff, keeping a vase-shaped form. Grass on the left, phormium on the right.

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And because it doesn’t bloom, it retains that dark-leaved, phormium-like presence the entire summer. Seen here behind the plumes of Chloris virgata.
The above photo coincidentally brings up what are for me its vices. All the stats available on this grass list it as topping out at 3-4 feet. Here in zone 10 this is a monster of a grass. That clump, 6 feet tall by 5 feet wide, was split off from last year’s main clump and moved here last fall. Because it thickens up so fast, it needs frequent splitting.

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This division was so small and thin this spring I didn’t think it could possibly thrive. Oh, yes, it could.

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Darker than any phormium I’ve grown so far, it’s been bred not to flower, though it throws an occasional bloom here, so dark as to mostly go unnoticed.

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Hardy to zone 8. In a colder-zoned garden, maybe this kind of vigor would be a virtue, achieving good size in just one season.
Keeping it on the very dry side in my garden does nothing to inhibit its vitality.

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And if you tire of that inky blackness and want to lighten things up a bit, think of it as a disposable phormium that reaches full size in one season. Pass it on or compost.
(I’m linking this post to Loree’s favorite plant of the week on her blog Danger Garden.)

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15 Responses to Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’

  1. Alison says:

    It’s interesting to see the comparison of this with a dark-leaved Phormium. I might give this grass a try-out up here in the PNW.

  2. kathy says:

    I thank you for this Denise, I have perfect situation for the Princess, involving a pot that is on a pedestal in the center of one of my beds.Now all I have to do is find one.

  3. Denise says:

    Alison & Kathy, I’ll post again when I dig up and split the biggest clump 😉

  4. Sue says:

    I picked one of these up in the spring. Unfortunately they are annuals for me :(. It looks just like P. ‘Vertigo’, another annual Pennisetum I grow although I haven’t compared them side by side. Since I discovered ‘Vertigo’ a couple of years ago I’ve been growing a few every season. Even though they aren’t hardy, for bold black foliage, they are worth repurchasing every year.

  5. Denise says:

    Sue, I think Princess Caroline is supposedly smaller than Vertigo — wow, I can’t even imagine. And I’m wondering if Vertigo is also bred to be nonflowering. I know Chanticleer mentions both for their courtyard gardens.

  6. Love the comparison to Phormium!

    It’s interesting to see both Princess Caroline and Vertigo are called out as hardy to 8a on the Proven Winners site. I’ve never grown PC (hadn’t heard of it before this…which is why I love reading about other peoples favs!) and just bought V this year (thanks to Scott) but didn’t think I stood at having it live over winter in my garden. We shall see, although you’re scaring me a bit with that size thing.

  7. Denise says:

    Loree, I’m curious to see how big Vertigo grows for you. I haven’t seen either Vertigo or PC used in local gardens yet — the red fountain grass still rules, always shabby, never cut back, so the old and new growth is a tangle, etc, etc…

  8. Kris P says:

    That’s one impressive grass. I can’t believe how much it really does look like a phormium. I wonder how it would do on a slope?

  9. Denise says:

    Kris, it really does mimic the phormium shape. I would think it would be fine on slope, even a dry slope. I moved it from a spot that got more water last year. Big improvement to keep it on the dry side. Maintains a vase shape much better.

  10. Denise says:

    Hoov, we’ll have to meet up in fall so I can get you some when I split up the big clump.

  11. Pam/Digging says:

    I wonder if it could take Austin’s months of 90 and 100 degree temps and drought? I love that dark color. We don’t have a lot of plants in that shade, although I do grow purple fountain grass each year for that exact reason.

  12. Les says:

    We are trying to use this next summer at the gardens. We should be warm enough for it to survive the winter. Phormiums cause envy here, but always disappoint.

  13. Rachael says:

    I have trikes many dark pennisetum inmy Minnesota garden. Vertigo always performs beautifully. Last year I tried Princess Caroline, and it was nice, but Vertigo did better for me. Though the foliage is lovely, I didn’t like the growth habit in First Knight., though it may be nice in a pot since it grows narrower for me. Prince didn’t grow as vigorously, or stay as uniformly dark. I plant Vertigo to anchor my front flower bed, and it is the one people always ask about. Grows to about five feet or more in our short Minnesota summers.

  14. Denise says:

    A lot of my garden friends on the East Coast love Vertigo too, but I never see it locally. First Knight just started blooming in February!

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