21 May 2013

The rites of spring

As a partial explanation of my absence from the blog for several days, I'll offer this photoessay showing the outburst of growth in the woods behind our home.  This past winter was unusually prolonged, so when non-Arctic temperatures finally arrived, most people in this part of the country rushed outdoors.  I headed to the woods behind our house.  (The photos should enlarge with a click)

This tree arches over the entry to the woods; this past winter we had several dead and undesirable trees taken out and failed to realize that this tree was leaning on one of those.  When its support was removed it bent to the extent that the top branches now touch the ground.  Not sure if they will collect enough light there for the tree to thrive, but for now it creates a living gateway.

In the Upper Midwest of the U.S., the primary choices for foliage plants in shaded woodlands are hostas.   This cluster at the base of the arching tree was one of the first I planted perhaps 10 years ago.  It will fill out to cover the entire mulched area before midsummer.  All except one of the clusters have had Repellex tablets placed in the root zone in an effort to dissuade rabbits from enjoying lunch here; one plant serves as a control.  We'll see what happens.


An even more striking foliage plant in my view is Pulmonaria spp.  I think we planted just a few; now they have proliferated in scattered locations in the woods.  I love the leaf patterns; the flowers are a bonus in the early spring but don't last long.  

These Lilies of the Valley came to us in an exchange with a neighbor to whom we donated some of the pulmonaria.  The other flowers in bloom this week include the bleeding hearts (photo at the top of this post), phlox, trillium, bluebells, dandelions, wild geraniums and violets.


Last fall I spent uncounted hours laying down landscape fabric and then dragging tarps full of hardwood mulch to the woods to create walking paths.   There's still lots of work to do to finish the paths (I'm laying down logs from the cut trees and partially embedding them on the sides of the paths to keep the mulch from spreading.   The paths give me a more secure footing for walking and also subdivide the garden into areas where we can experiment with different botanical combinations.

This hosta was the first one I planted in the woods after I spent the better part of probably two summers grubbing out the buckthorn and honeysuckle underbrush by the roots.  The soil back here is black loam several inches deep, and the other plants love it once you remove the invasives that steal all the water and light.  This fellow will be huge by the end of the summer; I probably should subdivide him.

We've added bluebells; these are not the English bluebells that you see in immense masses in the forests of the National Trust in Britain.  I put chicken wire around this cluster this week to keep the rabbits at bay, because we want to harvest the seeds to scatter in other areas of the woods.  Last summer the rabbits nibbled these down to the ground.


It makes sense to incorporate some landscape features into the planting scheme (and it makes way more sense than trying to move them).  Here three varieties of hosta cluster around a set of large boulders.

Some phlox was initially planted in the center of this area; it has now spread up and down the hillside.  The ferns are escaping from their bed and may have to be restrained because they will shade out everything else, and they are aggressive spreaders in soil like this.

A felicitous combination of plants - Jacks in the Pulpit at the far left just getting started, a variegated hosta, a Pulmonaria cluster, and at the far right some native violets.

Both the white trillium and the yellow ones need some protection from rabbits until they manage to spread to some distant locations.  The chicken wire is unattractive and "unnatural,", but is a temporary means to an end.

I really enjoy having Jacks-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) in the woods.  Never had to plant them; the year after I got out all the invasive underbrush, a couple Jacks emerged.  Now there are hundreds of them; the largest/oldest ones in the woods get as high as my thigh.

Last fall I wrote a post for this blog about propagating Jacks; I heard recently from my friend that her transplants have emerged and appear healthy.

I'll be back out in the woods and yard in the days to come.  Also facing the annual monster chore of Cleaning The Garage.  And hobby and family stuff is accelerating - and the Monarchs will be arriving within a week or so.  So the blog posts will be fewer for the next several weeks.


  1. Thank you for the beautiful photos. I hope that bent tree survives, it's an awesome gateway to your patch of the forest. If it doesn't do so well on the ground, you may consider the Japanese method for supporting leaning limbs—a Google image search for "japanese tree crutch" should give you the right idea.

  2. What a LOT of WORK you've done - and it was worth it - gorgeous woods, really really amazing :) Thanks for sharing this peak into your life "on the ground"

  3. Here in New Zealand we have Autumn colours now & it is great to see the results of you working with nature. Your varied skills & interests delight me. No wonder I enjoy your blog so much!

  4. I'm glad your Hosta is thriving, because here in the UK their leaves are like a drug to snails, and two of the four I have, have been chewed to bits.

    1. A trick that I learned years ago from my Father was to place shallow tubs partly filled with beer near where snails are a problem. The snails evidently love the beer, and eventually drown in it.

    2. Alternatively, I think you can get from your local garden supply store a bag of diatomaceous earth and sprinkle a circle of that around the larger plants; snails find the substance irritating/toxic to their skin and won't cross it.

    3. They also have copper tape at the garden center - if you put a low fence around them topped with copper tape the slugs/snails don't care for it.

  5. What lovely photos and what a lot of work you've done.
    If you should ever make it to Australia, be sure to visit the Dandenong Ranges (outside Melbourne) to appreciate just how big ferns can get. My husband walks the Kokoda Trail and Lyrebird Walking Tracks there every week and has actually seen a couple of lyrebirds in situ.
    (Oh, and when you mentioned the name "phlox" the first thing that came to my mind was the Denobulan Doctor in Star Trek: Enterprise!)

  6. Absolutely fabulous. I'm green with envy :)

  7. Bee-you-tee-full, thank you for sharing!

  8. This is such a wonderful change of pace from all the ugliness in the news today. Your woods look so serene and inviting. Thanks for sharing the outcome of all your hard word last fall.

  9. Beautiful! You da MAN, MinnesotaStan!

  10. It's always a pleasure to see lush, green foliage. I live in the desert and there is precious little shade or moisture. I do garden- we have roses in pots (rabbits are a problem here as well), flowering sages and chocolate flower (which really does emit the scent of melted chocolate) as well as growing vegetables in the raised beds of our community garden.

    But as we approach 100 degree days, I admit I am rather jealous of your cool, shaded gardens.


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