Monkey Around with Liriope

Monkey grass, liriope muscari, still blooming in my Missouri garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Monkey grass, liriope muscari, still blooming in my Missouri garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Monkey Around with Liriope

When one gardens on the side of a limestone hill, one needs to have allies. By allies I mean hardy plants that grow in almost any condition, tolerating drought, shade, too much sun, too much rain and getting trampled over. A lot. If they bloom, even better. Not possible?

Think again!

Monkey grass, also known as liriope muscari, has been my best buddy for years. The fact that people often toss out mounds of the stuff endears me even more. This ground cover, also called Lilyturf, may grow heady and fast in other soil but in my rocky hillside garden they are much better behaved.

I use monkey grass on my limestone hillside to mark paths. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I use monkey grass on my limestone hillside to mark paths. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

So in this photo, the liriope are the mounds of green leaves bordering the path. Monkey grass is also referred to as border grass and for good reason. The little mounds of 10-12 inch green leaves make a great hearty border that can easily put up with getting stepped on. This is where I started using monkey grass.

As the little plants multiplied, I used them to line my uneven flower beds. This way when the tree trunks I use to mark the borders decompose, the monkey grass will still mark the flower bed edges.

One of my new flower beds with old railroad ties as borders. As they decompose, monkey grass will line the flower bed. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One of my new flower beds with old railroad ties as borders. As they decompose, monkey grass will line the flower bed. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

They remind me of something Jim Henson would have made for a Muppet Show plant.

Originally from East Asia, liriope muscari has become a popular landscaping plant in USDA Hardiness zones 5-9. I specify the latin because the term “monkey grass'“ is also used for a couple other plants that may have had the “monkey grass” reference first. They all have a similar look so that may explain why they share the common name.

In addition to marking paths and borders, liriope works well for narrow garden beds and places where I just need a little green fill.

Liriope lines this shallow border where columbine and impatiens grow behind it. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Liriope lines this shallow border where columbine and impatiens grow behind it. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This spot was too narrow to plant much but monkey grass fills in nicely. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This spot was too narrow to plant much but monkey grass fills in nicely. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

All of these plants are solid green leaves with tiny long, purple flowers.

Earlier this year, I added a new liriope, variegated monkey grass. I like the pop of color lining the flower bed.

In addition to being hardy, I have found some of my honey bees visiting the tiny purple flowers.

They do die back in winter, sometimes leaving a mound of dry leaves by spring. Sometimes I cut them back but most often I leave them to regrow new leaves.

Variegated liriope muscari has white lined green leaves and darker purple flowers. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Variegated liriope muscari has white lined green leaves and darker purple flowers. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

So if you are looking for a hardy, easy to establish border plant, this is it.

Charlotte