This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Within the last few years, those who were so fortunate as to possess plants of the Pampas Grass, and transferred them to the open soil, have been gratified in witnessing, each summer, the beauty of its long, slender leaves, which form bundles or sheaths at their base, and rise to the height of six or eight feet, when they gracefully curve outward, giving the plant the appearance, at a distance, of a hemisphere of beautifully curved lines. Towards autumn, when the leaves have attained their full development, the flower stems appear from the centres of the strongest sheaths, shooting up perpendicularly three or four feet above the mass of foliage, and gradually unfolding a plume of elegant, feather-like flowers, which at first are of a silky whiteness, but assume a darker tint as the season advances. The striking beauty of this plant in the autumn, was the theme of all who saw it, and a large supply of seeds having been distributed by the Horticultural Society as well as sent out by the trade, the plant is now met with in most gardens of any repute; it has fully established its popularity, about which there cannot now be a question.
We have received from several of our correspondents dimensions of plants under their care, varying from twelve to fourteen feet high, and ten to eighteen feet in diameter, with from a score to fifty heads of flowers. When frosts have occurred in September, about the time when the flower stems appeared, they have injured them, as at that stage they are succulent, and consequently tender, and are also then frequently broken by high winds.
Although the Pampas Grass is not very particular about soil (provided it be open), yet, to insure a rapid growth, a deep, rich soil, well manured, will be found desirable; the plants should likewise be very liberally supplied with water during the period of active growth. The situation should be one fully exposed to the sun, with a dry subsoil, and as much as possible sheltered from high winds, which will sometimes break off the flower stems when young, and thus rob the plant of a part of its beauty. The plant ceases to grow after November, and the frosts of winter will induce a state of rest, and may brown and even kill the upper parts of the leaves, in exposed places, down to the stem; but if the subsoil is dry, no harm will happen, and, on the return of warm weather, a fresh growth will commence. The plant increases itself in bulk by forming a large increase of stoles, or new bundles of leaves, and, with good treatment, soon becomes a large specimen.
This grass has now become cheap, and the question of what can be done with it, may now be discussed more fully than when its scarcity made it a pet, and of course the most prominent part of the lawn or flower garden was allotted it. Although graceful in the extreme, we cannot bring ourselves to consider the flower garden as exactly the place for this grass. From March to July there is nothing in its appearance that can be considered ornamental; after the latter period the growth is very rapid, and it is then that its claims to an ornamental plant can be fully appreciated. We intend selecting an open site for it, backed up with evergreens, against which the appearance of its silvery plumes would admirably contrast; it might also be formed into groups on the margins of lakes or running streams of some magnitude, for it would be bad taste to plant so grand a thing near a small pool or puny brook. If planted near water, the ground should be elevated above the ordinary level; for, unlike our Carexes, this is not a bog plant, strictly speaking, but is found in a state of nature inhabiting the vast pampas (whence its name) of Buenos Ayres - level plains extending for hundreds of miles in La Plata, and reaching from near the shores of the Atlantic to the foot of the Andes. On these immense plains (which contain but few varieties of plants, and scarcely any trees or shrubs) vegetation is exposed at times to extreme alternations of drought and floods - the pampas presenting, at certain seasons, all the appearance of a dry and parched vegetation, and, at other times, of almost unequalled verdure.
The period of blooming in this country corresponds with the summer of its native land, and we may infer from its native habitat that a sunny, open exposure, with a dry state at the roots while in a dormant state, and an abundant supply of moisture while growing, will very nearly approximate to the conditions of its native climate.
The Pampas Grass may be propagated by division of its numerous stoles, with a piece of root to each, or by imported seed (for we do not imagine, from its season of flowering in this country, it will ripen any seeds here), which should be sown on the surface of broad pans or boxes filled with sandy peat. The soil should be kept moist and shaded, when the young plants will soon appear, and may be pricked out into other pans till they are large enough for transferring to the open ground. Botanists describe the Gynerium as being dioecious, or having male and female flowers on different plants; the male flowers being wanting in size and brilliancy of color, any plants found producing them should be destroyed, as the propagation of the female or more ornamental variety is easily effected, and plants only from this kind should be made use of.
By way of helping our description, and to enable our readers better to judge of the effect produced by the Pampas Grass when in bloom, we append a woodcut of a plant growing in the beautiful grounds of Stoke Park, the seat of the Right Hon. H. Labouchere, and long the elegant seat of the Penn family of Pennsylvania celebrity.
That plant of this grass is one of a lot of seedlings raised in 1854, shifted into an 11-inch pot in the autumn, and wintered under glass, merely keeping the frost from it. It was planted out in May, 1855; it grew luxuriantly, and, in October, 1856, it had eleven fine spikes of flowers, and, in the present year, it has forty-two spikes, from ten to eleven and one-half feet in height.
The subsoil, where it is growing is gravel to within a few inches of the surface. A pit was taken out for it three and one-half feet in width and two feet deep, and filled up with loam, with a mixture of charcoal and well-rotted manure.
[Mr. Buist thinks this grass not hardy at Philadelphia; for the South it will certainly be very valuable__Ed. H].