Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola?’ Me likey!



A photo of blue and yellow border at Heronswood (identified by a reader) from the University at Illinois extension site (it’s more of a chartreuse than you see here)

Finally a pick from the Perennial Plant Association that I can get excited about. Well, somewhat excited, because I have been growing it for a couple years—and I am sure many of you have as well—so it not exactly a newsflash. But I know that the Perennial Plant of the Year picks are generally of the tried-and-true variety.

Nonetheless, variegated hakone grass still gets the oohs and ahs on Garden Walk, will grow in my hostile dry and shady conditions, and doesn’t seem to require much in the way of care. Other than planting it, that is. For years, I have been enduring the craze for grasses, knowing I lacked every necessary condition for the survival of most of them. Hakonechloa Aureola is part of a small group of easy, shade-tolerant grasses I can grow (mondo grass is another).

These do not have the dramatic winter presence of the tall, sun-loving grasses—like those of the miscanthus family, whose arching grace I really love. Winter dieback is the rule, though PPA does not specify. In fact, they say zones 5-9, where I see our friend Allan Armitage warns Northern gardeners away, saying only as low as 6. Buffalo nurseries sell it as a perennial. I do notice that Southern gardeners will err on the side of caution when it comes to zones; I also notice zone designations usually need to be taken with a big pinch of something. In Chicago, not known for its mild winters, Barbara/Mr. McGregor’s Daughter has a thriving stand of it.

So kudos to PPA, and here’s to hakone.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I’m in love with this grass and can’t wait to include some in our dry, shady garden. Being a little further south than Barbara and having lots of shelter around our garden, I hope it will be happy here too.

  2. Unfortunate that both Rant and U of IL would have an unattributed photo of a very public garden. Blue and Yellow border at Heronswood.

  3. I’ve been growing it in zone 5 (southern Wisconsin) for about 8 years with no problem. I have the solid green version right near the street where it gets salt and extra piles of snow from the plows (104″ last year) and it has come back beautifully. Just cut it back yesterday so we’ll see how it does after another salty, snowy winter.

  4. I’m actually a little worried about mine, but we’ll see what happens! In the Sabato-Aust book, she shows it sticking up out of snow, but mine never did that. It just bowed its head and crumpled up.

  5. I think it needs a few seasons to really flourish where it’s cold. I’ve had it for 5 years in Minneapolis (incl. solid green, varigated, ‘Beni-kaze’ and ‘Aureola’) and it has made it through every winter. But it takes a few years before it looks really lush.

  6. Oh, thanks for posting this (and for everybody in the cold zones who posted their success with it!).

    There is a northwest-facing slope at the edge of the front yard that is covered with grass and a real pain to mow with a reel mower. I was considering Hakonechloa, but wasn’t quite sure if it would be hardy enough.

  7. Thanks for the shout out. When the snow isn’t too deep, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ does make an attractive show, even after it has been buried under a couple of feet of snow, unlike other short grasses such as Prairie Dropseed (Sporabolus heterolepsis).

  8. I really like this picture! The plant looks cool, but I think this is an excellent example of a successful border. I used to be so scared of designing my own borders, but pictures like these make it easy to teach yourself garden design. They also have helped me teach others how to design great looking borders.

    I like a good border. The purple and white border at Filoli is really nice.

  9. It IS an awesome grass. Has been slowly but steadily growing where I planted it and now I want the ‘All Gold’ variety too. Never satisfied, we gardeners, are we?

  10. Try it in zone 5. I grew it in my Michigan garden – lower zone five, but ‘dry’ winters, with only occasional snow cover. It was in a protected area, between the house and garage, and did well.

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this grass. So beautiful in all seasons.

  11. I have 3 zones in my garden errrrrr. That’s NC for you. I’m safe if I stick with a more northern climate hardy plant. Normally I’m 7 up close to the house and it can be a 5 out in the open during a brutal winter.

    So I think I’ll buy one of these this year and see how it goes. It is really pretty.

  12. Zone 6. Love this plant. Have three foot-wide 3 year old plants up on a moss and fern dappled-light woodland hillside and in perennial visual garden. Wildlife leaves them alone.

  13. I’m pleased as punch that so many of you have been so successful with it. I’m afraid that’s not the case in central VA. Here, it languishes in the heat and humidity. I consider Liriope ‘Pee Dee Ingot’ a better option in this region. As for hardiness, Rick Darke, in his latest grass book, says Hakonechloa is hardy zone 4. Happy planting!

  14. This plant grew beautifully in part shade in my Connecticut garden (Zone 6), although it did take its sweet time bulking up. I tried it in a client’s garden in Cincinnati last summer, figuring it would add some deer-resistant color, but plants were eaten to the ground: theory is rabbits or client’s dogs. Anyone have that experience? It was a huge bummer.

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