These native woodland plants deserve a place in any garden
THE WASHINGTON POST – Sooner or later you find that Mid-Atlantic Spring unfolds in three phases – three faces, you might say.
Before and including the cherry blossoms, the garden is cool with blossoming foliage and bright-eyed daffodils. The ground is still cold and frost is possible.
Now we enter a prelude to summer: hot days, collecting humidity, and flowering peonies, roses, clematis and lavender, plants that in colder climates define the onset of summer.
But it is the in-between period that forms the heart of the season – a time when the woodland garden or any shaded bed not only makes perfect 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 panoply of native woodland plants that bloom in April and May are not exploited enough, perhaps because historically we have turned to azaleas, bulbs and perennials from elsewhere for enter this period.
As for native flora, we are all familiar with flowering dogwood and wood hyacinth, but they are just a glimpse of the spring cornucopia; The eastern United States (US) has one of the richest natural treasures of native forest plants in the world, just begging to be used in our gardens.
One of the challenges of using them is getting to know them.
Another is to overcome our reluctance to crash ambitiously, and yet another is to have the patience for the display to catch up with vision. Some of these plants need a few years for their seeds, dispersed by ants, to grow and fill the voids. All of these obstacles, however, are surmountable.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the idea that, because they’re wildflowers, we need to treat them as botanical specimens rather than a palette for exuberant garden displays.
The most vehement defenders of native plants believe that the ornamental garden is an anachronistic luxury which must give way to the garden as a kind of ecological arch.
It does not make sense. Above 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 spring shows, and they are instructive on how different species coexist, but the gardener can and should amplify this effect.
The challenge is to find public gardens where it has been done well, because more is needed.
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 present themselves, including Bell’s Woodland at Chanticleer Garden in Wayne and, as a shining example, the Mt Cuba Center in Hockessin.
As familiar as it may be, Virginia Hyacinth (Mertensia virginica) remains a special woodland player, leafy and with beautiful flower color transitions from mauve to blue.
It is effective in galleries which simulate the carpets formed by ancient colonies in nature.
The magnificent bellflower (Uvularia grandiflora) blooms in clumps around the same time and has dangling yellow flowers with twisted petals nestled amid the soft, decorative foliage.
Native spring phloxes enhance any bed with their star-shaped flowers and are represented by the slow-growing moss phlox (Phlox subulata) and creeping phlox (P stoloniferous); 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 yellow lily bent amid lanceolate foliage. The marbled green and purple-brown leaves 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 street anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) and the other the false street anemone (Enemion biternatum). The leaves of the first 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 bloomer named 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 flowers before sowing and dying to start the cycle again. It may take three or four years for a colony to become hardy, but once that is done, you will be pulling young plants to control the show.
Entire books have been written about the trillium, the distinctive mayfly beloved for its tripartite leaves and flowers. Trilliums fall into two basic types: those whose flowers are borne by stems and those which spring directly from the cluster of leaves.
The first includes the large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), which can produce large colonies characterized by white and pink flowers, with the flowers staining 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 can add crested irises, columbines, shooting stars and moss flowers. One way to start such a shade garden in the spring is to buy root ball plants in apartments. Heavy mulching will thwart the desired self-seeding.
The best mulch is the fluff 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 covers.
Revel in these individual beauties, but remember that you are creating a spring garden that is greater than the sum of its parts.