This month on Garden Designer’s Roundtable, the topic has been chosen by you, faithful readers, ‘Underused Plants’. So today I present the woodland native, an underused plant.
When I was young, the woods surrounding our house fascinated me. There was joy and wonder to be found everywhere. There were forts to be made, streams to be dammed, and a myriad of trails to explore. To this day, I still love being in the woods, although it is not very often I visit. From those days to these, one thing has kept my attention, the wonderful woodland plants found trail and streamside. Back in the day I had no idea whether I was looking at a native to the area, or an exotic invader, soon to render a helpless sapling lifeless. But back then, very few of us did. Today information abounds on the native species inhabiting our woodland, or at least those that are left. It does seem that as time moves forward, not only does native habitat disappear, but so does the beautiful native flora. Here are but a few of the local stars still to be found in the northeast.
Here in Connecticut, despite being a heavily populated area, we are blessed with many open spaces. And any native plant discussion should start with our state flower, Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). The woods surrounding our house are full of Mountain Laurel, and although they are fickle about blooming every year, when they do, it is a site to behold. This was such a year!
At the edge of our yard we are lucky to have the wonderful little Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), so named for a leaf coloration resembling the side of a brook trout, and the fact that it blooms around the opening of Trout Season each spring.
Walking Connecticut’s woods would also reveal Lady Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) or the edible Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana).
**Note: the following photos courtesy The Connecticut Botanical Society, credits on each photo. Please visit their wonderful site!**
These are but a few of our many native woodland fauna, and while these plants are not suitable for every garden, within nearly every garden lays a small shaded corner in which to include one of our native beauties. So when planning your next garden or garden renovation, I hope you find the time and space to add a little native beauty. The youngster within you will be glad.
Now, please follow the links below and find out what plants my fellow Roundtable designers find Underused!
Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL »
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK »
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ »
Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold: Garden Life Home : Atlanta, GA »
The lower area of our yard borders a wetland, it has been a difficult space to work with. The previous owners established and maintained lawn there for years, although I’m not sure it was worth their effort. Americans are funny about our yards and the amount of mown lawn area we think we need, and this area is a prime example. For the first eight or ten years, we made a valiant attempt to keep this area looking “respectable”. But as my thought process changed about the suburban landscape, and the direction my landscape design company would take, I began to see other opportunities for spaces like our wet lawn. Five or six years ago, after so many years of not being able to mow until late June or July when the soil dried out, an idea surfaced; Wet Meadow!
This section of lawn receives a good amount of sunshine, and borders a wooded wetland area. We decided to let Mother Nature have her way, and with a limited budget to work with, we simply identified a line on the uphill side of the area that remained dry enough to maintain, and stopped mowing below it. The border line follows the contour of the land, and is defined as a long pleasing natural curve.
We have done little else in the subsequent years to maintain the area, except to mow it once a year in the fall when the soil is dry enough to allow, and I am happy to report that Mother nature did not disappoint us with her plant selection. Aside from the turf grasses that were seeded there (now measuring in feet rather than inches), a wonderful collection of native species is present, and come the end of each July, August and September the meadow is ablaze with Goldenrod (Solidago sp).
New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) is also present, as is Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). The last two years have seen the arrival of American Elder (Sambucus canadensis), and the stands of Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) that once were cut back on the woodland edge are now thriving in greater masses that explode each fall with bright red berries.
Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) is growing throughout and adds a wonderful texture to the grasses. Unfortunately, as with many natural areas these days, several invasives have made their way into our meadow. Each spring gloves are donned and stands of Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) are pulled and disposed of, as is occasional appearances of Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).
So far with regular yearly effort these invaders have been easy to keep up with, but constant yearly vigil will be held. Our meadow is quite vibrant in late summer and autumn, but it is little more than green during the early parts of the year. This is soon to change however, as we will be planting a host of wet meadow natives in the coming years to extend the beauty of this area, and draw in many more species of wildlife.
The wonder of our meadow I fear, is lost on our family, friends and neighbors, and yet anyone of them that dared venture within when the meadow is blooming, upon hearing the buzz of thousands of pollinators, and watching hundreds of dragonflies and the many bird species that frequent the area now, would surely be won over.
Our suburban mentality and lack of understanding of the natural areas that surround us prevent us from experiencing the simple natural joys in life. Activities that excited us as children are long forgotten as we go about our hectic lives, but every once in a while, nature presents an opportunity to create spaces that remind us of her infinite beauty, if only we would let go.
Do you have a problem area in your yard? Have you come up with a creative solution to dealing with it? We would love to hear about it! Please leave a comment, or head over to the Blue Heron Facebook fan page and tell us about it.
May you find simply joy in your garden!
Time once again for Bloom day, and that means a trip outside with the camera, and a look at some wonderfully cheerful blossoms. Enjoy!
Ruffled Apricot daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Ruffled Apricot’) is an impressive re-bloomer, and it’s fragrant!
Prairie Coneflower (Ratibita pinnata) is an elegant native, frequently visited by our pollinators.
Mardi Gras Helen’s flower (Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’) Is a favorite of mine since first using it several years ago. Its blossoms are a blend of yellow, orange and red.
Floristan White Gayfeather (Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White’) sports a very pretty white spike atop very attractive foliage.
My favorite of all the new Echinacea introductions, is Red Knee High (Echinacea purpurea ‘Red Knee High’). Its compact habit and deep magenta blossoms make it a welcome addition in our garden!
Another new and welcome introduction, is Katherine Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Katherine’). Highly resistant to powdery mildew, long blooming and a beautiful lavender blossom with a white eye. We will be enjoying this one for years to come!
Thunder and Lightning Knautia (Knautia macedonica ‘Thunder and Lightning) is an amazing color combo. Deep magenta pin cushions over green and cream variegated foliage. WOW!
Deep red with a yellow throat, Chicago Apache daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Chicago Apache’) is visible from all over the yard!
Don’t stop now, head on over to May Dreams Gardens and see what other Garden Bloggers are raving about, but before you do, please leave a comment!
See you in the garden,