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So our art director, Melinda Monk, is a unabashed garden enthusiast. She and her daughter Piper toil away on weekends, trying out this plant and that. It's always seemed to me that she finds as much fun in the trial-and-error of it all as she does in the horticultural rewards.

A few weeks ago, she brought me photos of an ornamental grass called Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' (golden hakone grass) and said it was her new favorite. Hands down. She'd planted it in her garden and loved the look of it—somewhat unruly light green/yellow blades, good clumping potential, and most of all, it can deal with more shade than most ornamental grasses. (Most require full sun). I told her I liked it because it had a certain "Cousin It" charm. Don't you think?

On Monday, she dropped a printout on my desk that said the Perennial Plant Association had named golden hakone its 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year. I have to say, I was impressed. I've always known she has an eye for what looks good and what works well—the six magazine titles she's designed here are proof of that. But now she's scouting talent in the garden too? Nice work, Mel.

In the meantime, here's what you need to know about golden hakone grass:

Native to Honshu Island, Japan * Grows in USDA zones 5-9 * prefers partial shade in climates like ours * grow in moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil * use as a ground cover, mass planting, or even in a container (window boxes, anyone?) * 12-18 inches tall, 18-24 inches wide * bright yellow color with thin green stripes * not favored by deer * looks good with hostas * Other good companions are astilbe, epimedium, wild ginger, bleeding heart, and lady's mantle.

(photo credits: above image from; thumbnail from