Yes, it’s a bit of a name, but it is very satisfying (and invariably impressive) to say once you do it.
When singing the praises of Miscanthus transmorrisonensis, one has to speak generally about Miscanthus and then about the properties of this particular species.
The last time I saw Christopher Lloyd was in 2004, and we were both dressed in full, formal ties and dressed for the Opera in Glyndebourne. Among the participants was Romke van de Kaa, chief gardener at Great Dixter in the 1970s (who was mentioned in some books by Christo and was a total legend in my eyes). We were all sitting around having a drink in the Yeoman Hall and in the middle of my own conversation I heard Christo and Romkes nearby saying “… too many Miscanthus.” Such an overrated perennial ”, followed by a“ completely overrated ”perennial of the others. In such a glorified society, it really takes some courage to express your (opposite) opinion – more courage than I usually have – but I couldn’t let that happen. I switched from my conversation to hers with a “No, I can’t let you get away with it.” They are brilliant perennials. They can be overused and poorly used, but from the moment they appear in spring, they are amazing, breathtaking before they bloom, fabulously blooming, wonderful in autumn colors and brilliant over winter ‘(Actually, that was what I did said, probably not as fluent). Now Christopher Lloyd could fabulously refuse the dissenting opinion – almost theatrically – whether his own thoughts were well judged or detrimental (he had a number of both), but at other times he could be pretty convincing. Unfortunately, this was an example of the former, and I assume that the only party I could convince was me.
And I definitely do am convinced.
Miscanthuses are amazing, dramatic grasses that permeate a garden with great seasonal dynamics. Their hills of constantly moving leaves reach this rare combination of fine linear texture, which is depicted in a legible “dome”. The late summer flowers take the plant to a whole new place that hovers over the foliage and in a range of colors from silver and gold to pink and deep, metallic red tones.
One thing that Miscanthuses don’t do well is drought. They are likely to survive the drought, but their slow accumulation of mass, culminating in flowering, which otherwise runs continuously in the warmer months, is limited by the start of excessive summer drought. This also means that the later a particular variety blooms, the more likely it will be that its flowering is interrupted dry by summer.
It was a few years after this memorable night in Glyndebourne that M. transmorrisonensis came on stage here in Australia, introduced (from memory) by David Glenn, who advertised it as one of his favorites for its almost evergreen foliage and early flowering.
Its most memorable features must surely be the huge dome made of semi-hanging silver straw flower heads. The effect is fountain-like, with all stems radiating in a vase shape and ending with elegantly hanging flower heads at a height of up to 2.1 m. The hanging shape of the flower causes this species to respond to breezes with greater vigor than others, and its light-reflecting – sometimes almost crystalline – flower heads make the light dance around them. The foliage is beautiful enough, but not remarkable among other types and forms. As announced, it is half evergreen. This is not an advantage for me. I prefer that it is completely deciduous and changes color when descending into autumn. Instead, it only yellows slightly and is likely to still have quite a bit of green if you prune it back to the ground in late winter – which is what you really need to do with all miscanthus to avoid the slow build-up of dead matter.
Miscanthus transmorrisonensis is also one of the earliest of all Miscanthus that bloom in all seasons. I am never in a hurry for them to bloom because the foliage itself is so beautiful, but the early flowering means that at least in my dry summer climate the prolongation growth necessary for flowering is more likely to occur as long as there is still some moisture in the soil is. Therefore, dryness in late summer is less likely to hinder flowering than later flowering forms. I don’t water any of my Miscanthus – I don’t have water to give them – and M. transmorrisonensis is the only species that performs consistently every year
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