I’ve always enjoyed driving through older neighborhoods that have huge, shade-giving trees around the houses and yards. Having lived in relatively new houses most of my life, I’ve never really been able to grow plants that prefer deep shade. By the time our trees got larger, we moved! I would like to have a shady, woodland garden in some part of the Perfect Garden.
I’ve been sketching ideas of the Perfect Garden layout lately and one version has a pool and patio behind the house, surrounded by shrubbery. Behind this area is a wide open area of grass that leads towards a nice grove of trees near the back of the property. I’m thinking I could create a small shady haven back there with a little bench or chair in the middle of it. Wouldn’t it be great to go sit there early in spring when all kinds of small wildflowers and bulbs emerge, or on a hot summer’s day when cool shade would provide a welcome refuge?
Now, it would be ideal if I also had a source of water close by, like a brook or stream, because many shade plants are happiest in a moist environment. (Remember! This is a Dream Garden so far, so why not??) But if this is not possible, I could easily make sure that I supply a humus-rich, well-drained loam to the area and then compost and/or mulch it, to insure a moist environment.
Let’s say the area is naturally moist – what flowers might create a woodsy, forest environment and how could I plant them to get this effect?
Ah – ha!! Here I go again! I never learn! Instead of immediately jumping in and starting to accumulate flowers, I will actually listen to my own advice (see “Design Concepts” from the home page): I need to plan out the trees, both coniferous and deciduous, and the shrubs first as well as the basic design before jumping into the minutiae! (Old habits die hard…)
Here’s an idea for a nice layout:
Right in the back corner of the property, a large oval or kidney shaped area with the trees being all along the perimeter, with a few inside. A path starts at one end of the kidney shape and meanders through the shape, coming out at the other, basically bisecting the shape.
If I decided to stick with native deciduous trees, I could use: Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Alleghany Service berry (Amelanchier laevis), Canoe or Paper Birch (Betula papyriferia), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus), Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) or one of my ultimate favourites, Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis).
Other non-native favourites include: River Birch (Betula nigra), European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’), Marshall’s Seedless Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica ‘Marshall’s Seedless’) or Dolgo Crab Apple (Malus ‘Dolgo’).
Evergreens or conifers are integral to the woodland garden as well. Natives are: White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis), White Pine (Pinus strobus), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and White Spruce (Picea glauca). Smaller non-natives that have a prostrate or horizontal habit are: Canadian Golden Juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Depressa Aurea’), Nest Spruce (Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’) and Blue Pfitzer Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Pfitzeriana Glauca’).
Shrubs add the next layer of height. There are so many wonderful shrubs to choose from but I’ll narrow it down to 5: White Flowering Dogwood (native) (Cornus florida), Redbark Dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’), Diane Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’), Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and if I get courageous, a nice Rhododendron or Azalea!
Now let’s talk flowers and ferns!
(But before I do, let’s make a note that all wildflowers mentioned here should be purchased at a nursery and never, never dug out of the forest!!)
Here’s a list of beauties that I would love to include: Double Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’); Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Mrs. Moon’; Anemone quinquefolia; both white and pink bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis and alba) as well as native fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia); many different types of Barrenwort: (Epimedium grandiflorum , Epimedium x youngianum and Epimedium x rubrum) and of course trilliums, jack-in-the-pulpit, Mayapple, wild ginger (Asarum canadense) and native columbines.
Graceful ferns can arch in and around these lovely plants. The forest environment would provide a natural mulch of needles and leaves but an enhancement of shredded bark wouldn’t hurt.
Here are a few more photos of the above-mentioned beauties:
Here is a wonderful Barrenwort with dainty yellow flowers
I may add narcissus and other small spring bulbs to this area – they blend well into a forest setting.
The July/August 1998 issue of Fine Gardening magazine featured a great article and photos of Margaret de Haas van Dorsser’s garden through 4 seasons. It served as great inspiration for many of my ideas!
The woodland garden would be quieter and not so showy in summer having a few interesting wildflowers of interest: Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum), Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) and Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).
In autumn, the trees and shrubs would be the main focus, turning many shades of red, orange and yellow.
My Perfect Garden would certainly include a Woodland Garden!