On of my twitter correspondents is in despair over her gardener’s latin. I wonder why.

Break it down. Say it a time or two. Chionnnnnochloa flavescennnns. It roles off the tongue like reciting Racine. I fancy it could be the name of an exotic Latin heroine in a romantic novel. Perhaps not. This grass comes from New Zealand! 

Try another handle and look it up in the RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Chion is greek for ‘snow’. Yes, lots of so called gardener’s latin contains other languages! Chloe means ‘grass’.

Snow Grass.  It grows in the alpine and sub-alpine grasslands. It is all quite logical.

Although the common name of this species is The Broad Leaved Snow Tussock I know which name I think sounds more fun!

My reason for showing you it today? I came across my photo of this this morning, while looking for something else and thought isn’t it fab?

I love the way its soft, lime green inflorescences lop over to one side, like the engaging tale of a rather over eager pet. And yet it has definite style.

Once you decide what it is that grips you you about a plant, that is yet another way of gripping  the name.  Oh! I forgot to say that the flavescens bit means yellowish green.

The other important bit of remembering is what things actually do. By that I mean what use they are to you as a designer or gardener. At horticultural college, where I was taught plants many years ago we had to learn at least 5 bits of information about a plant. I can’t remember now what those categories all were, but one was certainly ‘landscape use’.

Chionochloa is extremely useful because it covers the ground in a dense but airy tussock (!!)

But this grass is extra useful in that (and this is the difficult bit folks) in my experience it copes with dry shade-at least shade for part of the day and particularly in high summer when the sun is high!

If you look at the books(and this is a little the danger with books) it will tell you different. I see the RHS 4 vol dictionary says ‘Grow in a light, gritty, well drained but moisture-retentive and fertile soil in a sunny position with shelter from cold drying winds’. Could only be written by the RHS couldn’t it??!!

I grow it beneath a cedar where the ground is hard, quite definitely not fertile and not moisture retentive – the cedar takes every scrap of both. I hate to break it to the RHS, but it is also in something of a wind tunnel! My supposition is that the high up shade is a little the mitigating factor here.

So books don’t tell you everything. Hail, college taught plantsmanship!

Because at the end of it I have a great mass of this in one of the most difficult growing positions in the garden and it shows class.

R

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