It would be difficult to overpraise this ornamental grass for the effect it brings to the year-round garden.
The only species in the genus, H. macra comes from Honshu, the main island of Japan, where it grows in moist, mountainous areas, on cliffs and hillsides, including Mount Hakone after which it was named.
Growing from 45 cm (1½ ft.) to 90 cm (3 ft.) depending on its situation, the species deserves attention for its narrow, graceful, arching rich green leaves that make billowy mounds of foliage.
The golden variegated hakone grass, H. m. ‘Alboaurea’, which no doubt arose as a sport or mutation in Japan many years ago, may have a difficult name, but it is generally an easy, eye-catching and trouble-free plant to add drama to any garden. It forms a dense, slowly spreading clump of congested wiry roots, new deep yellow-and-green- striped shoots quickly emerging to make gently arching hummocks of bright golden ground-covering foliage.
There is no end to the uses and plant combinations possible with H. m. ‘Alboaurea’, as pathway edging, as ground cover beneath trees or shrubs where not too dry, combined with a blue hosta or black-leaved Ophiopogon, or grown in a container with foliage cascading down on all sides.
Wispy flowers occur in late summer among the sometimes-red-tinted foliage, and even when this dies back, the thin brown-beige winter leaves remain attractive well into winter, continuously moved by wind and breeze. These are adaptable plants, but it is worth finding them a spot where not too hot and dry, in sun or shade according to climate. They can take heat but not extreme heat, sun and drought, requiring some moisture at the roots (when leaves curl, you know they need water). Open up heavier soils with leaf mould, composted bark or humus to allow roots to run freely.
Divide plants in early spring before leaves have opened, not allowing them to dry out, and replant, firming in wiry roots, watering and lightly mulching. Cut back old foliage when it begins to break down in late winter.
30–45 cm (1–1½ ft.) × 45–60 cm
F late summer
H. m. ‘Alboaurea’, which has white splashed on its gold-and-green leaves, is often confused with H. m.
‘Aureola’ which does not, but the two are mixed in the trade and equally worthy. H. m. ‘Allgold’, with purely golden-yellow leaves, is slightly prone to sun scorch so does best in some shade. Attractive though less dramatic is H. m. ‘Albovariegata’, with light green and creamy white striped leaves. All are of similar stature and hardiness to H. m. ‘Alboaurea’.