Friday, December 5, 2008
a native plant garden - part 1
In my own garden, which I've had for about 6 years now, I've tried to combine native plantings with contemporary design. I haven't been super strict about using natives though - I'd say it's about 75% native.
The house is in a neighborhood called Walnut Hills, next to the college woods behind the campus of William and Mary. One nice thing about the neighborhood is all the established trees. Unlike some parts of the town, you still get a sense of the forest that would have been here originally. However, the shade from the trees really constrained the type of garden I could have. In my yard I have a couple of loblolly pines, mockernut hickories, a tulip poplar and red and silver maples - all native trees. That's a lot of leaves to deal with. I could have taken some of the trees out but I think that would have been fighting nature. In this part of the country, growing trees is what the land wants to do.
The other big constraint was the long ligustrum hedge that almost completely surrouded the property. Ligustrum, or privet, is a non-native invasive shrub that takes a lot of trimming but it does provide privacy and it would have been a nightmare to take it out, so I decided to keep it.
Here's a plat of my house. Many of you probably have something similar that you received when you purchased your own houses.
Working with the existing arrangement of building and spaces, I started to use axis and lines of sight to organize the yard. These lines began to suggest secondary spaces around the house. From there it was just a matter of filling in the design with plantings and paving.
The first project I tackled was the front yard - it was a mess! There was a bit of struggling lawn and a small dogwood too close to the house. There were also a few shrubs haphazardly scattered around: weedy azaleas, Japanese holly, burford holly and such, but none of them were native or particularly special, so I started by ripping them all out.
Putting in this fern bed allowed me to do a couple of ecologically beneficial things. I now have an area where I can let my leaves decompose naturally and I also divert a lot of my roof runoff into this area. The ferns really like it and the runoff recharges the groundwater instead of going into the storm drain. It's been great seeing the ferns fill in and multiply.
This type of planting might not be for everyone though, and I don't think it would have worked as well if it was exposed to the view of the neighbors. From late fall through early spring there's not much to look at except a bunch of leaves and some scraggly Christmas Ferns.
Luckily, around the first of April the bluebell come up and things start to change. I've planted 20 or so 1 gallon pots of bluebells as well as some smaller bare-root ones that I got mail-order. I'm hoping they start spreading over the next couple of years.
Mid-April is when the ferns start to come up. I love to see them unfurl. It's almost as nice as having them fully grown. I have several species all with their own distinct texture.
Some of the ferns I've used are lady fern, a refined little fern,
and ostrich fern, whose fronds look similar to feathers. This is the fern that produces the edible fiddleheads you may have eaten.
I also have Christmas fern, which is the fern you most often see growing in the woods around here. It's evergreen and provides a bit of color in the winter.
Maidenhair ferns are one of my favorites. Its little lacy ferns are some of the earliest to come up and some of the last to die back.
My cinnamon ferns are not old enough to have the beautiful fertile fronds like this one in a friends yard, but someday...
I even have a little bonsai pot of resurrection fern that I'm trying to encourage. It gets its name because when it's dry the leaves turn brown and curl up. After the next rain though, the bright green fronds come back to life.
Mixed in with the ferns are lots of native perennials like this Canada lily, which the deer sometimes eat,
mayapple, which likes the shade and forms large colonies,
jack-in-the-pulpit, which is very common in the nearby woods,
shooting star, with its tiny white flowers,
and trillium, with its beautiful white flowers.
To read more see:
The Side Yard