If you're familiar at all with the mid-Atlantic region, then you know that our soil is predominantly red clay, a particularly unforgiving dirt.
So, if you have a home you only visit on weekends, with a yard that's 100% red clay and sits in blazing sun and gets very little summer rainfall on its fast-draining, very steep, 30º slope, what do you plant in this difficult landscape?
Why, ornamental grasses of course:
They planted this yard about five years ago, and it has filled in quite nicely, I think. In and among the grasses they also have Knock-Out Roses, Stella d'Oro daylilies, Cannas, Crepe Mytles, Buddleia and a Japanese maple. When it's all in bloom, it's really quite lovely, but even when all you see are the different greens of the grasses, shrubs and trees, it's very pleasing to the eye.
My brother and his wife are close friends with a couple who own a garden center in Cary, NC, (just outside Raleigh), and their friends laid out the design and picked the plants and helped them put it all in one weekend. I wish I had friends like that, (but perhaps a little closer to home)!
When we take the pontoon boat out around the lake and look at what other people have done with their steep slopes, you see a lot of expensive retaining walls, many of which are nothing short of butt-ugly. We're talking $100K eyesores. Those folks hired contractors with little sense of design, which is a shame when you're spending that kind of money.
Probably the loveliest landscape I saw last week was this very Italianate planting:
These folks obviously hired an incredible designer. I really love the contrast between the tall evergreens (reminiscent of Italian cypresses), the shorter, heavily pruned shrubs, and the graceful rounded forms of the grasses. Nicely done. That's what good landscape design is all about.
Next time I'm at the lake, I need to remember to take pictures of the eyesores, to better illustrate my point.