Seeing red

Recently, I read a blog by a disappointed purchaser of “Shenandoah” switchgrass (Panicum virgatum “Shenandoah”). Although the plant had been heralded as the native replacement for Japanese Blood Grass, he wrote, his wasn’t really red, although the plant was beautiful in its own right.

I never could understand the hoopla here in Georgia about red-leaved plants: Red-tip photinias, purple-leaf plums, purple-leaf loropetalum, “Palace Purple” and “Beaujolais” heucheras. Call them what you will: “red,” “purple,” or “wine.” Whenever a new plant arrives in the marketplace, if it had green leaves, someone is going to work overtime changing them to red ones.

Red plants, though, don’t show up well in our typical Atlanta gardens. We build with red brick here, and most red-leafed plants clash or disappear against it, as they do in our favorite mulches–pine straw and pine bark nuggets. And if those red-leafed plants are accidentally seen against our native red subsoil–a design disaster.

I too cheer replacing foreign ornamentals with natives. We only have to look at how Miscanthus sinensis and its popular cultivar “Morning Light”–hailing from Asia–helped revive an interest in ornamental grasses and then went on a rampage in the North Georgia mountains, uninvited.

And Shenandoah switchgrass is beautiful. After filling a small meadow garden with muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillares), little bluestem (Schizychirium scoparius “The Blues”), purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis), and gayfeather (Liatris spectabilis) –all wispy and bluish–I wanted something shortish but with more oomph.

I was fine with “Shenandoah” turning red in the autumn but didn’t want a bright blotch of it in the summer. So far, so good–I am delighted with the quiet, shining grace of this plant–its light green leaves with their subtle splashes of scarlet. And I look forward to fall–when I know it will fit right in with the rest of the Georgia Piedmont.