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Friday, May 14, 2021

Meet the Flower That Epitomizes California Cool (and Literally Never Dies)

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Nothing captures the beguiling, golden, windblown fantasy that is the Califorina dream quite like pampas grass—aside from Joan Didion or Eve Babitz, maybe.

As a California transplant with a black thumb who’s bracing myself for the New York winter, this modest little plant has become the most important part of my home. Turns out I’m not the only one stockpiling these low-maintenance, feathery plumes: interior decorators, hip shop-owners, and influencers are flocking to them as well. Keep reading to learn all about pampas grass, then learn how to style this floral that never dies from Corinne Mathern, a Santa Barbara interior designer; Amy Larson of Brooklyn’s Shapeless Studio; and Emily Henderson, HGTV host and L.A. designer.

What Pampas Grass Is

Cortaderia selloana, pampas grass’ fancier-sounding official moniker, is a tall-stemmed flowering grass native to Southern California. It grows in a variety of neutral colors, from a silvery gray to light beige and golden wheat. Because it seeds prolifically, it’s considered an invasive weed in some regions, and is even banned in New Zealand.

what is pampas grass

A fun, odd fact, according to the : Pampas grass is associated with swingers in the United Kingdom! Apparently, some folks in the sexy subculture grow it in their front gardens to signal their swinger status to other swingers passing by. It kind of makes sense, seeing as the breezy, free-flowing nature of pampas grass makes it the sexy silk slip dress of the plant world. And though it looks fluffy and soft, it’s actually quite prickly to the touch (plus, it sheds, so you’re better off not poking and stroking it). Henderson describes it as soft yet sculptural, which is why it brings such an intriguing and unique visual texture to a space.

Why Designers Love It

“Pampas brings a calming texture into the spaces I design—I see it as the floral equivalent of a gorgeous, neutral-colored cashmere blanket,” Mathern tells us. “Also, since I am based in Santa Barbara where pampas is abundant, bringing it into the home represents the indoor-outdoor flow of materials that I always strive to achieve with my properties.”

Henderson echoes this sentiment, saying that pampas grass “evokes that easy, breezy, carefree feeling that all of us are deep-down trying to feel… So [we] might as well put it on the outside where we can see it.”

Room, Furniture, Wall, Floor, Interior design, Bathroom, Bed, Shelf, Textile, Wood,

Even better news? Pampas grass is eternal. It truly thrives on neglect! No water needed, no sun needed, really no nurturing whatsoever, unlike roses that rot and needy fig trees that cost a fortune. Larson believes that the grass’ popularity is due to its ease and versatility. “It brings a natural element to a space, similar to a flower arrangement, but is neutral enough to go with just about any color palette and style,” she says. “It provides a soft textural quality that delicate flowers do not. Pampas grass has an agricultural quality that feels especially American, which may be a reason people seem so enticed by it.”

Where to Buy It

“Pampas grows wild where I am based in Santa Barbara. So even though it feels like a luxurious floral, it’s quite accessible for everyone who is inspired by it,” says Mathern. If you’re lucky enough, you may be able to source yours from your own backyard, like Mathern does. There I am below, gawking at all the pampas grass growing wild in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles this fall.

Vegetation, Tree, Botany, Botanical garden, Garden, Daytime, Plant, Wilderness, Sky, Leaf,

Otherwise, you can find it at your local flower market. If you’re in New York, Larson suggests heading to the flower district on 28th street in Manhattan. And if you’re not in those two major cities and your local flower market scene isn’t thriving, “Amazon has a surprisingly decent online selection,” she says. My own personal source? I always see pampas grass on display in cool vintage shops and boutiques, so I just ask them if I can buy it off of them (pricier than usual, but it doesn’t ever die, so it’s a lot cheaper than buying other flowers).

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