These Native Woodland Plants Deserve A Place In Any Garden | Way of life
Sooner or later you find that Mid-Atlantic Spring unfolds in three phases – three faces, you might say.
Before and including the cherry blossom days, the garden is cool with blossoming foliage and bright-eyed daffodils. The ground is still cold and frost is a possibility.
Now, from mid-May to June, we enter a prelude to summer: hot days, collecting humidity and the flowering of peonies, roses, clematis and lavender, plants that in the cooler climates define the onset of summer.
But it’s the in-between period that forms the heart of the season – a time when the woodland or other shady garden not only makes sense, but also has the potential to provide the most refreshing and enjoyable time of the day. year of gardening.
I say potential, because the array of native forest plants that bloom in April and May are not being sufficiently exploited, perhaps because historically we have turned to things such as azaleas, bulbs and flowers. perennials elsewhere to capture this period.
As for native flora, we are all familiar with flowering dogwood and hyacinth, but they are only a glimpse of the vernal cornucopia; the eastern United States has one of the richest natural resources of native forest plants in the world, just begging to be used in our gardens.
One of the challenges of using them is knowing them. Another is to overcome our reluctance to crash ambitiously, and yet another is to have the patience of the display to catch up with the vision. Some of these plants need a few years for their seeds, dispersed by ants, to sprout and fill in the gaps. However, all of these obstacles are surmountable.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the idea that, because they’re wildflowers, we need to treat them like botanical specimens rather than a palette for exuberant garden displays. The most ardent defenders of native plants believe that the ornamental garden is an anachronistic luxury that must give way to the garden as a kind of ecological arch. This is nonsense. First of all, a garden must have beauty, because this is how we derive joy from plants and develop an affinity for them. And, more concretely, this is how the hard work of the gardener is rewarded.
It is true that some natural spaces are also beautiful in their springtime shows, and they are instructive on how various species grow together, but the gardener can and should amplify this effect.
The challenge is to find public gardens where it has been done well, because we need more. In Washington, you can visit Fern Valley at the National Arboretum. Further on, the Native Plant Garden at the New York Botanical Garden has a wooded section. In the Delaware Valley, various gardens stand out, including Bell’s Woodland at Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Pa., And, as a shining example, Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Del.
As familiar as it sounds, the Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica) remains a special forest player, leafy and with beautiful flower color transitions from mauve to blue. It is effective in drifts which simulate mats formed by ancient colonies in nature.
The enchanting bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) blooms in clumps around the same time and has dangling yellow flowers with twisted petals nestled amid the soft, decorated foliage.
Native spring phloxes enhance any bed with their star flowers and are represented by low-growing moss phlox (Phlox subulata) and creeping phlox (P. stolonifera); they can also hover a foot or more above the forest floor with the wood phlox (P. divaricata).
Instead of a mass of flowers, the trout lily features a single large flower, a nodding yellow lily amid lancelike foliage. The leaves spotted with green and brownish-purple persist and remain decorative long after the flowers have faded. Like many of these woodland plants, however, they melt in midsummer to their hidden dormant state. Botanists call them spring mayflies.
Two of the most endearing of these are lookalikes, both with ranunculus flowers in white or, in some varieties, pink. One is the rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) and the other the false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum). The leaves of the former are arranged alternately on the stem; those of the latter are opposed. Under optimal growing conditions, both will propagate by seed, reaching flowering age in two or three growing seasons.
No woodland garden should be without a showy lavender blue bloom called the Fern-leaved Phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida). The half-inch flowers are round and prolific, borne on leafy stems. It is biennial; the first year it germinates, the second it grows sturdy and blooms before sowing and dying to start the cycle again. It may take three or four years for a colony to become robust, but once it does, you will be pulling young plants to control the show.
Entire books have been written about the trillium, the distinctive mayfly beloved for its leaves and tripartite flowers. Trilliums fall into two basic types: those whose flowers are borne on stems and those which burst directly from the cluster of leaves. The first includes the large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), which can produce large colonies distinguished by white and pink flowers, with the flowers becoming colored as they age. Trilliums without floral stems tend to have mottled foliage and are, in my eyes, more elegant. These include the superb yellow trillium (T. luteum) and the Mississippi wakerobin (T. foetidissimum).
To this assembly, you could add crested irises, columbines, shooting stars and moss flowers. One way to start such a spring shade garden is to buy root ball plants in apartments. Heavy mulching will thwart the desired self-seeding. The best mulch is the duff of fallen leaves. If you want, you can rake them in November, shred them with a mower, and put them back in the flower beds. Stay ahead of weeds, including invaders such as Japanese stilts.
One requirement will be to fill the voids left by retreating mayflies, which can be achieved by planting among them some of the smaller ferns and sedges, as well as other evergreen ground cover.
Revel in these individual beauties, but remember that you are creating a spring garden that is greater than the sum of its parts.