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Classic black Fountain Grass—Pennisetum ‘Vertigo’

Blue Ribbon ‘Vertigo’ is a commanding presence in the garden. This is a big grass—it will grow up over your head if you water it enough. Take full advantage of this spiky dark purple foliage by using it for dramatic effect. We find it’s a very flexible tool that can be used in a number of design scenarios.

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Two fountains of ‘Vertigo’ in a sea of Rudbeckia ‘Toto Gold’

A stand of tall, dark ‘Vertigo’ is our favorite way to display it—like a living fountain rising out of a vast lawn. This is centerpiece material all on its own, or surrounded by a skirt of shorter flowering plants at the base. It’s a simple display to build—just set about five or seven Rudbeckias around the base of three ‘Vertigo’ plants and repeat until the bed is filled. This delivers an easy yet beautiful result.

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A mass planting of ‘Vertigo’ behind a Coleus bed

For a striking hedge use several ‘Vertigo’ plants in a row. We find this strategy to be particularly eye-catching on a slope, or along a walkway or stone staircase in the garden. When the autumn décor season rolls around we prefer using tall, shadowy ornamental grass to add height to our displays—as a live alternative to ho-hum dried cornstalks.

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A hedge of ‘Vertigo’ backing up a row of Coleus ‘ColorBlaze Dipt in Wine’

Deep purple-black ‘Vertigo’ makes a natural background for other colorful plants. We used it in an all-out drama bed we planted a few years back. Coleus ‘Dipt in Wine’ was the star of the show in front with ‘Vertigo’ and some big banana leaves in back. It was a large bed and the taller material brought the drama up, filling the space vertically.

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‘Vertigo’ can grow in the shade but more green will show in the leaf

To get the best, darkest ‘Vertigo’ you’ll need to plant it in full blazing sun. Don’t be shy because it loves the heat—the hotter and shinier the sun, the darker the plant will get. It does grow well in partial shade gardens but you’ll get a greener leaf. In shadier areas it’s grown for the dappling color and cascading form of the plant.

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This blackness comes from full, hot sun—notice the nice contrast with the Canna

Not many plants will deliver this much blackness over this much ground, and high up in the air as well. ‘Vertigo’ is an attention getter by itself, but the plant looks especially dramatic when paired with light colored or broad-leaved varieties like the Cannova series of Canna.

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A garden with three stages of height—‘Vertigo’ is backing the Cleome

If you practice a three-layer garden design (high, mid, and low color bands) ‘Vertigo’ slots into the back row quite easily. We have seen it used effectively to highlight other drama plants by providing a consistently dark background. It’s handy for adding that something else to a background that can be sometimes too monotonous.

In short, this is a valuable tool to keep on hand for the various gardens you might be building. It fills a number of functions well, grows easily and quickly into position, and can serve the roll of star performer or supporting cast member with equal grace.

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