Liriope spicata

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

How beautiful is this? This is Liriope spicata, a nonnative grass that's tough, tolerant of wetness and drought, full sun and deep shade, and will crowd out weeds in a blink. It mounds up so nicely. I really like the look. Here it was on the Swarthmore College campus the other day. Garden supervisor Chuck Hinkle was giving me a tour of some of the 20 or so lawn-alternatives he's testing to see if they'd work better than turf grass in hard-to-reach spots like hillsides and steep slopes and also save money on mowing, which the college contracts out. I have but one caveat to add. This is running liriope or lily turf. There's a clumping kind (muscari) that's far more polite. Spicata can be mighty aggressive if planted in the wrong place, like on a sunny strip in my city garden! It charges right through the fence onto the sidewalk - I'm lucky it hasn't popped up on the other side of the street. At least, not yet. It's created such a thick mat, it's hard to get any other plants in there. But that's the idea, dummy! It was the wrong plant in the wrong place chez moi, but it's perfect for tough spots that are out of the way, hard to plant and need carefree coverage. If you've ever been to the Swarthmore campus, and seen its stunning lawns and natural amphitheater, you'll understand why Chuck might be looking for ways to economize on mowing. There's a place for sweeps of turf grass, he says - just imagine Swarthmore College without those gorgeous lawns and outdoor theater. You can't. But sometimes you need other stuff.