If ever there were a plant that gives of its best when it’s needed the most, it’s Hakonechloa. I took the picture above under heavily overcast skies and with a hint of drizzle in the air. I have done nothing to enhance the colour of the Hakonechloa as it assumes its autumn raiment. The foliage is wet and the light inclined toward a contrasting bluishness, no more is needed.
For many years I have grown a variety that I obtained in a Devon nursery and it either had no name or I lost it along the way. I have long thought of it as H. macra ‘Mediovariegata’, I think because I ruled out every other variety I read about and that was what was left. More recently I obtained one under the name ‘Albostriata’ and the two look very similar, though I hesitate to say identical. ‘Albostriata’ was a variety being propagated and sold by the wholesale liner supplier Seiont Nurseries, who put it into their catalogue to replace ‘Stripe it Rich’, which they had found to lack vigour.
My experience bears that out, ‘Albostriata’/’Mediovariegata’ is a robust plant, standing up well and spreading a few inches each year. It also produces the best autumn colouring and stands until February in an average winter, standing out as the brightest plant in the garden by far through the middle of winter. Its summer colouring is green with creamy stripes; I would say that the name ‘Albostriata’, if correct, is misleading.
Hakonechloa macra is the parent species of perhaps a dozen varieties available in the UK. It is plain green, robust and upright. This year it is rivalling ‘Mediovariegata’ for colour, in previous years it has been a little less bright.
‘Stripe it Rich’ was very slow to get well established but at around six years old it is now doing well and spreading a little each year. The leaves arch gracefully outward making a mound around 9 inches high and they are a pale green with white stripes mainly in the centre and margins of the leaf. Its autumn colouring is relatively pale and low key.
‘Aureola’ or ‘Alboaurea’ is by far the most widely grown variety in the UK and has green and yellow striped leaves, the yellow being very bright and dominating the green. It is quite a strong grower, spreading slowly and making mounds feet across with the shoots upright in the centre and arching to touch the ground at the edges. Its winter colouring is considerably less intense than some of the others.
‘Samurai’ I obtained from Knoll several years ago. For me it has been the most vigorous spreader with the stems slightly more widely spaced than other forms. Another variegated variety, the stripes in this instance are nearly white, especially early in the season. It colours a bit later than the rest, in late November being still predominantly green.
Some varieties have been selected for the reddish tints that the leaves get in late summer and autumn. I have two such, ‘Beni-kaze’ and ‘Nicolas’, both very young plants, the former in the ground, the latter in a pot. Neither have coloured at all this year. ‘Nicolas’ is still fairly green, ‘Beni-kaze’ a rather ordinary dead grass colour.
‘All Gold’ is the brightest and the floppiest variety that I have. The leaves are a uniform bright yellow from spring until autumn. Even now at the end of November it is the most yellow of all of them. It is also pretty much flattened so I would expect it to be the first to break up under winter conditions.
The other variety I have in a small pot bought this year. It is another variety from Seiont and is called ‘Sun Flare’. It appears to be similar to ‘All Gold’, an unvariegated, yellow leaved form.
Looking at pictures from the last couple of years, my original clump of ‘Mediovariegata’ has been the last to be cut down, sometime in February. The others made it to February one year, but had been cut down by the same time in the other year. Our cats took to jumping in them one year, which didn’t help. Our Cornish climate is wet and windy, I would expect them to last better in drier and more sheltered gardens.
The other great merit that they have is to be completely deciduous. So many grasses are spoiled because they gradually accumulate dead stems and leaves which are impossible to remove. Hakonechloa starts to shoot very early so it is necessary to remove the previous year’s shoots before the new ones are more than an inch high. Then you start each year completely clean.
Mine are in very ordinary soil, mostly in part shade, ‘Samurai’ and one ‘Mediovariegata’ mostly in sun. They don’t like to dry out but I don’t find I need to water the shaded ones at all, the others rarely. I would imagine that growing them a little hard; by which I mean growing in poorish soil and not feeding, and watering only when very dry; would keep them shorter and less inclined to flop.