IT GROWS IN SHADE, READS AS SOLID GOLD, and looks good from early May to sometime in winter, I think, faded to wheat-color and partly hidden in snow. Even my beloved former cat agreed on this one: Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ was Jack’s favorite snack-pack among thousands of botanical choices here, apparently delicious fresh or (in the offseason) freeze-dried. It’s the latest thing I’d order if I didn’t already have it, a plant I cannot garden without.
I was watching Jack feast on a faded clump of ‘All Gold’ one morning, just before I sat down to tea with the Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm catalog. Page 86 that year showed photos and profiles of seven varieties of this woodland grass, including ‘All Gold.’ It must be a sign, I thought: first the cat, then the catalog.
Unlike the more familiar variety H. macra ‘Aureola,’ which gets to about 2 feet high and wide, ‘All Gold’ Japanese Hakone grass is maybe 15 or 18 inches in both aspects. Even with the slightly shorter stature, its impact eclipses the gold-and-green-striped cousin’s, and I have quickly forsaken the one Japanese forest grass, as it is also called, for the other.
Though ‘All Gold’ will grow in dark spots, as with most yellow-leaved plants the best color will be had where there is morning or dappled light, bringing you more gold than greenish-yellow.
My favorite hostas, Japanese painted fern, Astilboides tabularis and other distinctive woodlanders make dramatically showy, season-long companions for the grass. I keep nine plants of ‘All Gold’ (Zones 5-9) overwintered in my vegetable garden for lifting and ordering into summertime duty in pots, where it is also excellent: no care, but all-season color. That’s seven of them in a 3-foot bowl in a very shady spot, so less gold and more yellow-green (above).
Occasionally some blades will go hot red in fall, a lovely twist, but if you want that feature there are varieties cultivated for their red autumn color, including green then red-and-green ‘Beni-Kaze’ (translates as ‘Red Wind’); ‘Nicholas’ (green shifting to orangey-red); and also ‘Naomi’ (variegated cream and green, turning wine). I’m happy when ‘All Gold’ simply turns wheat shades in October by my path (below). Klehm’s has them all.
The thing about this grass, in any form, including plain green: It’s got a cascading habit that makes it distinctive. It’s like a wave; never stiff, and never still. A mass if it around a tree trunk creates the illusion of a rippling pool. More is better. Think ocean.
Like the cat and the catalog say: highly recommended. And it fits into my master plan for “making mosaics” (a.k.a. successful underplanting of mixed groundcovers), too. That whole story is here, or watch the video first: