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The Woodland Garden


In the beginning, there was the back yard – a brand new expanse of suburban lawn well suited for badminton and frisbee games. A couple years after its installation, there came the back-yard wedding. For that, we needed a patio and a patio-side pond. The excess soil from that project went into a pile toward the right side of the yard, onto which many mums were planted for the September wedding. And that was the beginning of the end of that wide expanse of lawn...

Soon after the wedding, my father-in-law made me a wooden windmill, which got a place of honor near the center of the back yard, with a little flower border around it. In the following years, the hill and the windmill areas expanded in each other's direction, until they became one large "back yard island", complete with several small trees: a redbud and a crab-apple from an Arbor Day Society purchase, as well as a Tatarian maple and chaste tree grown from traded seed.

The next big development was the installation of our swimming pond and its associated waterfall. That generated a lot more soil, which went onto the existing pile, for the waterfall to run down from. The back yard island was behind the pond, waterfall, and the new patio we installed by the pond. Through all the transitions, as well as the maturing of those small trees, the central portion of the back yard island gradually took on a completely different character: the place where tall, sun-loving plants like Maximillian sunflower, golden scalehead, and compass plants duked it out became progressively shadier. As the sun-lovers slowly phased out, they weren't structurally replaced by more suitable plantings, and weedy opportunistic plants took over.

Then one year, I had enough and hacked away all those plants, determined to bring that central part of our garden back within my control. My vision was a woodland garden – a place where spring ephemerals and shade-loving plants would find a better home than our tiny, over-crowded shade garden could offer. As luck would have it, I had just picked up a few trilliums at an arboretum plant sale, and had a few hellebores in need of dividing, so the initial plantings were soon installed. Since then, new plants have come and gone, but the concept seems to be working OK. Those trees are still around and provide the required shade. I added a couple more trees in the lawn area behind the back yard island, in hope of expanding the woodland garden in due time. Several ferns have joined the cast of characters, which still includes those trilliums and hellebores, as well as Solomon's seal, mayapple, and hardy begonia. It's still a work in progress, a progress I enjoy watching year after year.

A list of plantings in the Woodland Garden

Acer tataricum ssp. ginnala (Tatarian maple)
Acorus gramineus 'Minimus Aureus' (dwarf golden sweet flag)
Adiantum pedatum (American maidenhair fern)
Amsonia tabernaemontana (blue stars)
Anisocampium niponicum 'Pictum' and 'Regal Red' (Japanese painted fern)
Arisaema ringens (Japanese cobra lily)
Asarum splendens (marbled Chinese wild ginger)
Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern; tatting fern)
Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' and 'Variegata' (false forget-me-not)
Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud)
Dodecatheon meadia (shooting star)
Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata' (golden-scaled male fern)
Echinacea tennesseensis (Tennessee coneflower)
Epimedium 'Pink Elf' (barrenwort; fairy wings)
Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' (lilac fairy barrenwort)
Helleborus x hybridus (lenten rose)
Isopyrum biternatum (false rue anemone)
Kniphofia uvaria (red hot poker; torch lily)
Lespedeza thunbergii (bush clover)
Maianthemum racemosum (false Solomon's seal; treacleberry)
Malus sargentii (Sargent's crab apple)
Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern)
Ophiopogon variegated (variegated mondo grass)
Peltoboykinia watanabei
Persicaria virginiana 'Painter's palette' (painter's palette)
Pinellia pedatisecta (green dragon)
Pinellia tripartita (green dragon)
Podophyllum peltatum (mayapple)
Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' (variegated Solomon's seal)
Sassafras albidum (sassafras)
Thalictrum chelidonii (meadow rue)
Trillium erectum (wakerobin, stinking benjamin)
Trillium grandiflorum (great white trillium)
Trillium sessile (toadshade trillium)

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Last modified: May 26, 2015
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