Greenlee Meadow Grass Fall Festival 2015

Fall has been stupidly busy, but I’m so glad I made it out to Pomona last Saturday for John Greenlee’s Meadow Grass Fall Festival, the second year it’s been held. Let’s cross our grubby, fall-planting fingers and hope for another festival in 2016. The food was plentiful and tasty, as were the libations. Alas, I couldn’t stay for the evening jazz concert. Now based in the Bay Area, Greenlee still maintains the Pomona property where his grassy ambitions first took root. The festival was attended mainly by designers, and it was an impressively energized bunch. The prevailing mood seems to be that in drought, there is opportunity — especially for garden designers. All were eager to hear what’s new in grasses, what’s working, and what isn’t. John Schoustra of Greenwood Gardens covered daylilies, irises, and pelargoniums, and made an impressive case for the bioremediation qualities of daylilies in the landscape. I loved the tallest daylilies with the smallest, simplest flowers, like ‘Salmon Sheen,’ which is heresy to true aficionados. Schoustra’s preference is also for daylilies that read well in a landscape and not for all the ruffles and sparkles that require close-up inspection on bended knee.

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Although I don’t know him personally, our paths have been crossing ever since our kids attended the same private school in Long Beach.

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I well remember the Greenwood van parked at the curb of the old, two-story wooden house where Mitch and Duncan attended elementary school. Resourceful old houses can double as schools, plant nurseries, like Greenlee’s house on its enormous lot in Pomona. I arrived late (after getting a bit lost) so missed the opportunity to wander and take some photos of his bamboo-covered garden.

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Part of the sales tables near the house

It can’t come as any surprise by now that I’m an incredibly easy mark when it comes to plants. And for the first time in a while I actually had some empty ground due to the departure of Yucca’ Margarita.’ I brought home, in gallons:

Three Yucca pallida, Mountain States Wholesale Nursery
Two Melampodium leucanthum, Blackfoot Daisy, from MSWN (if you follow Rockrose’s Texas blog, you already know this remarkable little daisy)
Poa cita, a New Zealander that Greenlee feels might be the replacement for Mexican Feather Grass
Euphorbia antisyphilitica, from MSWN (Total non sequitur, but if you’re watching Soderbergh’s The Knick, you’ll be up to date on the gruesome ravages of syphilis.)

Most of these were selected after hearing the very persuasive Wendy Proud of Mountain States Wholesale Nursery list her go-to plants during her talk “Got Some Ground to Cover?” Every plant in her roster carried impeccable dry/tough/gorgeous credentials, so look them up for fall planting and ask for them if you don’t see them at your local nursery:

Acacia redolens ‘Desert Carpet’
Dalea capitata ‘Sierra Gold’
Eremophila glabra ‘Mingenew Gold’
Euphorbia antisyphilitica, which at about a foot tall reminds me of a smaller Baja spurge, Euphorbia xanti
Gossypium harknessii
Melampodium leucanthum
Portulacaria afra minima
Scutellaria sp. ‘Starfire’
Yucca pallida
Yucca rupicola

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In constant motion and as animated as any meadow grass, Greenlee packed in a dense amount of information during his talk. That’s his selection of true blue Cupressus guadalupensis in the distant background. We were tucked into the narrow, shady former driveway at the entrance to the garden. Temps are still seesawing between upper 80s/low 90s this fall.

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As far as the ongoing search for lawn replacements, Greenlee reminded us that no grass will stay green without some summer water, but the trick is to find a grass that requires the least amount necessary. The more foot traffic is intended, the more water will be needed. For the moment, he’s wild about Leymus triticoides ‘Lagunita,’ which he feels is the closest thing to the perfect California native lawn. In creating a meadow, along with the chosen base grass, architectural accent grasses like Pennisetum spathiolatum add height and movement, and Greenlee has been experimenting with including flowering plants like gazania, tulbaghia, yarrow, gaura, evening primrose. Challenging designers to come up with their own meadow formulations, Greenlee increased the level of complexity by adding that it must all be mowable at some point to rejuvenate the grasses. A lot of people I’ve been talking with share his enthusiasm and feel that this is an exciting tipping point for creating dry gardens without the obligatory, frequently irrigated, and closely mown lawn. The Blue Grama grass selection, Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition,’ got a strong endorsement from him as well, which he sometimes mixes as an accent in plantings of the species Blue Grama. For Greenlee’s definitive advice, consult The American Meadow Garden.

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Planted at home, Euphorbia antisyphilitica to the right of Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls’ recently moved here, with a few blooms from Melampodium leucanthum peeking in. I’d like about five more of this euphorbia, which surprisingly can winter through a zone 7. Lomandra ‘Lime Tuff’ in the background has been phenomenal this very hot summer. Grey succulent is Senecio medley-woodii which I cut back a lot to encourage bushiness.

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One of the three Yucca pallida, pending mulch. I was determined to find spots where the slanted afternoon light picks up the leaves’ yellow margins

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Poa cita, Greenlee’s choice over Mexican Feather Grass

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My own personal “meadow,” of course, must include agaves. Just as the taco truck was arriving, and before hearing Grant Lee Stevenson’s talk on palms, I had to leave.
Did anybody else attend the palm talk?

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7 Responses to Greenlee Meadow Grass Fall Festival 2015

  1. Alison says:

    I love daylilies too. I used to go for the fancy, ruffled ones, my favorite lately is one called ‘Bold Tiger.’ It’s bright orange with a darker eye. That Euphorbia is interesting, it looks like it’s a stick-like one, like E. tirucalli? I’m not familiar with any of the plants on your list, but I bet more than a few are not hardy up here.

  2. Denise says:

    Hi Alison – some of these plants were new to me too. That gossypium was gorgeous! Yes, that euphorb is one of the stick-like kinds, but it branches from the base and doesn’t become shrub-like. In that regard it’s similar to Euphorb. mauritanica but won’t have the typical lime-green flowers. This antisyphilitica has slimmer, more silvery leaves and will have small pinkish-white flowers like the Baja Spurge. The festival’s focus was fairly region specific, but many of the plants like the yuccas are adapted to colder zones.

  3. ks says:

    I would have loved to attend this, and what a nice assortment you brought home.I’m down to about 8 Daylilies now , all of which I cut down to the ground after bloom to get rid of the ratty foliage. They really don’t seem to care one way or another about water.
    We have an expectation or rain here too..probably leftovers from the deluge our PNW friends experienced yesterday.

  4. This sounds like an excellent program, one I would have loved to attend. You brought home a fantastic selection of plants. I added Euphorbia antisyphilitica this year as well. It’s still small, but growing (it’s in many spots in the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and looks outstanding).

    Please let me know what your experience with the poa cita is. I haven’t seen it locally yet but would love to try it. In the meantime I’m picking up some Stipa ichu (Peruvian feather grass) from the Ruth Bancroft Garden. It’s supposed to be much better behaved than Mexican feather grass.

  5. hb says:

    I’ve actually been to that house–Alan’s niece went to Cal Poly when Greenlee was teaching there and she took us to the already unoccupied property–the garden was much overgrown and unkept, but quite fascinating. There was a plant-growing place adjacent, where I got some Phormiums for $2 apiece.

    Someone somewhere said there was a So Cal native grass that was a dead-ringer for Mex-Feather, and since it was a So Cal native who cares if it reseeds, but I can’t remember the whos or whats. The daylilys were the stars of the flower-garden this year, as the roses were more silent…

    What great events you find!

  6. Denise says:

    @Kathy, I’ve never been drawn to daylilies before but am wondering now how they’d look interplanted with grasses. Yes, fingers crossed for rain!
    @Gerhard, I kept thinking you’d be able to identify all the bamboo. Stipa ichu has been good its first summer for me.
    @Hoov, I can’t think of a dead-ringer for MFG that has those thick, blonde, wind-swept tresses. I like Aristida purpurea, but it’s very wispy and thin compared to MFG.

  7. Kris P says:

    Thank you for this wonderful, detailed post, Denise. When I saw your earlier notice on this event, I really wanted to attend but the work on our back garden has become something bordering on overwhelming (all-consuming might be a more precise description) as I’m trying to get as much done as I can before El Nino gets going. Your post was almost like being there.

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