The Woodlands is a beautiful, natural garden that is maintained by Master Gardener Harriet Carter. Harriet officially became the leader of this garden in 2015 after assisting two others for her internship. She has been a Master Gardener since 2014, and is married to Bob Carter, a MG since 2013. Harriet has had interns and other MG’s help her along the way, but is actively looking for a Co-leader! Harriet comes to the garden every workday and loves working here. You can also see her at just about every MG volunteer activity!
Harriet describes the Woodlands as “Heaven”. There are times it can be a challenge, especially after a storm when branches fall from the trees. There are several large trees in the bed one of which is a white oak. We know that an owl sits in this oak from time to time because we have found an owl pellet at its base.
When Harriet first started helping in Woodlands, she says that she didn’t “see it”. She describes her first impressions as “a lot of foliage in in various shades of green, and I didn’t know the plants, flowers, and shrubs.” In the early spring of 2015 she came out and had an “awakening”! The leaves had not leafed out, but the redbuds were in full bloom and there was color throughout the bed. Hellebores were blooming in pink, white and red and everything in between, and yellow wood poppies were blooming next to the purple phlox. She remembers this day and how really beautiful the Woodlands are in the early spring!
Many of the spring flowers are ephemeral and when their blooms fade, the foliage dies back. They rely on either wind or early spring insects for pollination. Three Virginia woodland ephemerals are: Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica), Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). There are some late blooming plants in the Woodlands as well and one of Harriet’s favorites is Toad Lily, Tricyrtis spp. One of the best features of Woodlands are the naturalized ground covers. One especially notable is Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), which does well in deep shade or part sun. This plant can be found growing in deciduous forests throughout the east coast. Despite its name, it should not be used in cooking as it contains a carcinogen!
The Woodlands garden is an example of the Temperate Deciduous forest. These forests have a great variety of plant, animal and fungus species. Most deciduous forests have 3 layers of plants, some even five. The forest floor contains a rich organic layer where nutrients are recycled. In this layer it is common to find fungi in the spring and the fall. Fungi spread by spores and mycelium, the structures used to absorb nutrients through decomposition. In the Woodlands, we found two types of mushrooms this week. Stinkhorns are mushrooms from the Phallaceae and are notorius for popping up suddenly and unexpectedly in urban settings. In our area they can be transported in mulch, sod, or wood chips so can be found in many garden settings. The foul smelling slime they create attracts flies who love to eat it. When feasting on the slime they spread the spores. We did not identify, yet, this white mushroom.
Understory trees in this garden include Red Bud, Witch Hazel (which blooms in winter), Dogwood, Wild Azalea, Smoketree, and Boxwood. Ferns are one of the great features of this garden found in the shade, and these include Christmas fern and Wood Fern.
Harriet classifies this garden as a “dry shade” bed, meaning that plants can survive periods of drought. There are three rain barrels hooked up to soaker hoses that have been laid throughout the garden. When water is needed, the master switch on the main barrel can be opened and gravity feeds the collected rainwater to the garden. Shade plants such as those found in Woodlands require little water and care throughout the season. A true woodland bed also does not need to be mulched. Leaves from autumn leaf fall are hand raked to uncover plants in the early spring.
If home gardeners are interested in planting a woodland garden on their property, Harriet recommends avoiding sun loving plants. If you want to add them, plant them on the outer edges of the garden. Focus on adding color and and variety of foliage. As with this garden, deer will probably be a problem. This is their natural habitat and they may even sleep there at night. If you have cedars as this area does, you may find it hard to grow plants under them. Harriet has had some success with Epimedium under the cedars here. It is also nice to add pathways and statues for interest and a bench to enjoy the cool shade in summer. Using native plants for the shade and part shade in such a planting will attract many beneficial insects and butterflies. You may even find the Eastern Box Turtle laying her eggs!