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Originally published Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 5:00 AM

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Japanese forest grass can make shady and sunny beds

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris sings the praises of Japanese forest grasses, and shares good places to admire Rhododendrons in full flower.

Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

K ing County Master Gardener Plant Sale: Preview Party 5:30-8 p.m. Friday ($35 admission, appetizers, wine). 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle (

Seattle Tilth’s May Edible Plant Sale: Organic “warm season” heirloom and rare veggie starts, music, more. Early Bird Sale, 5:30-7 p.m. Friday, $25; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, free; Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Seattle (206-633-0451 or

Kubota Garden Spring Plant Sale: Conifers, Japanese maples and other deciduous trees, great shrubs and perennials. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Renton Avenue South and 55th Avenue South, Seattle (206-619-2183 or

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In the Garden

Ornamental grasses are a necessity in any sunny mixed border, where they add texture, form, color, sound and movement. It’s more difficult to integrate grasses into the shade garden, however, because few grasses can survive in shade. Fortunately there are two highly colorful varieties of Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass) available at local nurseries that thrive in shade. These grasses will brighten up any shady corner in the garden. Forming graceful 1-1/2-foot-tall, fountain-shaped mounds, forest grasses spread slowly from underground roots but aren’t at all invasive. The leaves on Hakonechloa macra “Aureola,” or golden-variegated Japanese forest grass, are heavily striped with cream, chartreuse and lime green. The leaves take on beautiful tints of pink and red as temperatures cool in autumn. Or add a golden glow to that dappled shade with Hakonechloa macra “All Gold,” a golden Japanese forest grass. The leaves on slender stems create the appearance of a tiny golden bamboo. Use it to light up a dappled section of the garden, or to add fantastic color in a shade container. Japanese forest grasses are deciduous. Allow the dried foliage to add beauty, sound and movement during winter, but cut the leaves to the ground in late February to make way for colorful spring growth. Division is rarely necessary, but it’s easy to take sections from the corner of the rootball to make new plants in spring.

Rhododendron hot spots

The Rhododendron is our state flower, and this is a great time to see them putting on a real show. Two of my favorite rhody gardens are the Rhododendron Species Garden, (2525 S. 336th, Federal Way, 253-661-9377 or and Meerkerk Gardens on Whidbey Island (360-678-1912 or In addition to spectacular gardens, both have nurseries where you can buy Rhododendrons, including hard-to-find rare species and hybrids. If you want a real monster, consider Rhododendron sinogrande. It has the largest leaves of any rhododendron, as well as correspondingly large creamy yellow flowers with a crimson blotch. Or if you prefer a squeaker to a honker, Rhododendron saluenense ssp. chameunum is among the tiniest of Rhododendrons and features purple flowers. If you want to visit yet another stunning garden with incredible rhododendrons, take in our beautiful Washington Park Arboretum. Go to the Graham Visitors Center (2300 Arboretum Drive) and ask for a map, and walk to nearby Loderi Valley, where some of the world’s most fragrant Rhododendrons are in bloom. Don’t wear knee-highs. Your socks will roll up and down uncontrollably when you smell the wonderful fragrance of these kings of the Rhododendron family.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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