Steele: Ornamental grasses in Kelowna’s city centre

About 10 years ago the parks department planted an ornamental grass garden in front of the Kelowna Museum.

During September, I encourage you to take a short stroll in the downtown core to see some very good examples of ornamental grasses.

About 10 years ago, when grasses were uncommon in public places, I was delighted to discover the parks department had planted an ornamental grass garden on the slope in front of the Kelowna Museum.

Beginning at the Queensway end, there is Korean feather-reed grass (Calamagrortis brachytricha), switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’), Indian grass (Sorgastrum nutans) and fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides).

On the other side of the steps blue lime grass or sand dune grass (Leymus arenarius or Elymus glaucus) has continued to spread even though most was removed after the first year. Do not use this in your gardens.

Other grasses on this side include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), tufted hair grass (Deschampsia caespitosa ‘Goldtau’), and blue fescue. All tolerate low water conditions.

With the slope, species needing more water can be placed at the lower side where it will be moister.

This is a low maintenance garden. Grasses are cut back in late fall.

Many varieties stand up well through winter, so in a home garden they could be left until spring.

Stuart Park, along the waterfront, has a predominance of mass plantings of ornamental grasses.

Most have moderate to low water requirements.

Miscanthus grasses at the south end are a classic example of large fall blooming grasses. They have moderate water needs.

On the other side of the bear statue, above the red annual salvia and silver dusty miller, are tufted hair grass and fountain grass.

Along the waterfront walkway, little bluestem is backed by June-blooming Karl Foerster feather-reed grass.

Further north the fine, blue foliage of little bluestem is complimented by small blue-leaved arching forms of dwarf blue Arctic willow (Salix purpurea ‘Nana’).

Arctic willow has fine, dark purple stems making it very attractive when the ice rink is in use.

Along Water Street, Arctic willow is mass planted with blue oat grass. Its mound of fine foliage stays blue all winter.

These two parks are a good illustration of how grasses soften edges and stand up well in high traffic areas. They also create a calming, natural look.

The largest grass, hardy in our zone 5 climate, is Erinathus ravennae (hardy pampas grass). With regular irrigation, on the south side of the RCMP Detachment on Doyle Avenue it grows up to fourteen feet tall. In drier conditions plants are shorter.

You can hear the wind in their broad, tough leaves. In winter they are an erect silhouette no matter how heavy the snowfall.

More grass gardens, mass planted with perennials, can be seen along Sunset Drive.

Checkthe website for photos and more extensive information on ornamental grasses.

The drought tolerant species are also in the searchable plant database at


My next xeriscape class is Thursday, Oct. 17 and 24. Details and registration information are on the OXA website,

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