Molinia caerulea subsp.'Claerwen', Molinia caerulea subsp.arundinacea, Molinia caerulea subsp.caerulea 'Camarthan', Molinia caerulea subsp.caerulea 'Variegata'
Last week I set out to inspect the little stylised meadow for weeds, I was curious to see if anything more interesting than creeping buttercups had popped up. Among the swathes of fresh grassy growth I secretly hoped I to find opium poppy seedlings in the gritty mulch. Their blood-red blooms were beautiful last summer.
At this time of year it’s the fresh new growth of the semi-evergreen Deschampsia cespitosa that catches the eye, at least, from a distance. In my search for tiny poppy seedlings I was peering at the mulch of horticultural grit around the forty or so molinias which otherwise go unnoticed at this time of year. All except one of them looked the usual dull and uniformly mid-green.
Much to my surprise this one contained a rash of stripy leaves.
Looking at the rogue more closely, the leaves in question range from a simple white striped vein to a sporty profusion worthy of a George Melly suit.
I dug up the four year old plant in order to divide the variegated and plain green portions. The rootball was a good size.
This was the best I could do at this time of year, it’s getting a bit late to divide cool season grasses, especially those with a cespitose or tightly bunched, clump forming habit.
As there’s more growth to come I shall continue pinching out the plain green shoots as they appear. Next year early spring will be the time to divide the plant again using the little electric saw. I imagine it takes many years, not to mention probable losses, to produce a predominantly variegated plant in this fashion. Still, it will be fun to give it a go.
As with so many of my little grassy adventures one thing leads to another. In rummaging through online sources and reference books I’ve discovered lots of things I didn’t know about cream-green variegated dwarf molinias. According to Seedaholic there are four variegated clonal cultivars, one of which is widely available and well known, Molinia caerulea subspecies caerulea ‘Variegata’ (AGM). Less commonly seen cultivars are ‘Camarthan’ and ‘Claerwen’. Presumably, they originated in Wales. Beth Chatto and Marchants nurseries both list at least one of them in addition to ‘Variegata’. Marchants lists both of the rarer ones and describes ‘Claerwen’ as being the “choicest” form. Roger Grounds compares it to ‘Variegata’ as being “similar but more subtly coloured and distinct in its narrow, almost black panicles” (RHS Grasses : Choosing and Using these Ornamental Plants in the Garden, Quadrille 2006). It sounds wonderful!
Prior to my discovery in the meadow, I’d have glanced at the image above without thinking too much about it. Now that my interest in the patterns of variegation in molinias has been piqued it’s a different story. In the lower right hand section there’s one green leaf as well as two green flowering stems – the rest of the flowering stems are cream coloured.
The first battalions of yellow creeping buttercups and dandelion clocks are timely reminders that next week I really must get back to the more serious business of weeding the meadow. If I get a bit of free time next week I’ll pop back and do the links to websites.
*It seems the serrated looking abscission layers explain why the flowering stems of these grasses tend to topple in December. According to Bob Brown’s notes in his Cotswold Garden Flowers website the dwarf cultivar ‘Dark Defender’ doesn’t develop this layer and so stands throughout the winter.
Helen Johnstone said:
I find variegation interesting and I really like white/green variegation but can’t stand yellow/green variegation. I have some plants which seem to be more variegated in shade, losing the variegation when moved to a sunny spot.
That’s an interesting observation Helen, maybe shade or limiting variegated plants to morning sun suits them? A shady spot shows off the brighter leaf colour too. I wonder where you planted that beautiful white/green Carex ‘Ice Dance’, I think it makes such good ground cover and is also attractive in its own right.
That’s an interesting discovery – well spotted!
Wasn’t I lucky, it happened to be one of the ones to the side of the horseshoe shaped access path.
Diana Grounds said:
Dear Kate and Hitesh
I have spent a wonderful afternoon snoozing in my wonderful swing seat. Thank you both so much for the time and trouble you both went to for making this possible. I am so grateful and only sorry that I was not able to say this in person.
We look forward to seeing you both again soon, probably after my out patients appt.
Thank you for mentioning Roger’s grasses book in your latest blog – he much appreciates this.
With much love
Sent from my iPad
How lovely to hear from you, Diana. Helping to put the swing seat together was an interesting puzzle and our pleasure. It’s good to hear that you have been enjoying it on such a warm, sunny day. Looking forward to seeing you both soon, Kate x
Well done Kate I bet that was hard work breaking the clump up. I love the George Melly suit observation to describe the stripes, visual and amusing.
Thanks. I removed the third which looked completely green leaved fairly easily using a pruning saw. The old Sabatier bread knife is ideal but the chef doesn’t approve of it being ‘borrowed’to split grasses.
Actually I think I can understand why he doesn’t approve !
( I use my pruning saw)
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I plan to buy him a shiny new one for his birthday 😉.
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Well spotted! So now you have your own variegated Molinia. Perhaps you should name it George Melly. And you too have your own resident chef. I really appreciate mine, although he doesn’ t like going into the garden. But then I don’ t really want someone with horticultural opinions, meddling.
Perhaps this is the garden equivalent of ‘too many chefs …’? I suspect my own dear chef would much rather enjoy the garden from the vantage point of the patio while peering over the top of his paper. I like your idea of a pet name for the stripy grass, thank you. ‘George’ it is.