The Woodlands Garden

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.


Owl Pellet

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 LilyTricyrtis 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!


Plant List:

Woodlands Bed Plant List

The History of Earth Day

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”  -Margaret Mead

Many of us have become accustomed to Earth Day, an annual international event held on April 22 to celebrate our Earth. We go out into our communities and join others in celebration and work together to pick up trash, clean streams, plant trees and teach our children about the importance of a sustainable environment. This year VCE Master Gardeners of PWC join hundreds of volunteers and staff in Prince William County to work on many different projects, including Keep Prince William Beautiful, Prince William County Schools, Prince William County Schools Energy Team, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Prince William County Libraries, Prince William Wildflower Society and many other local volunteer organizations, to keep this tradition going.

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 in the United States, and became International in 1990. It is now celebrated in 191 countries with an estimated 200 million people, and is coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network.

In 1969, before the first Earth Day, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honor our Earth at an UNESCO Conference in San Francisco. The 1960’s was a very dynamic period for grassroots eco-activism, inspired in part by Rachel Carson’s devastating book, Silent Spring, (1962). After a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, and the cumulative impacts of decades of environmental degradation, US Senator Gaylord Nelson (WI) founded the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Intended as a nationwide environmental education “teach in” held on campuses across the nation, 20 million citizens took to streets, parks and auditoriums coast-to-coast, in the largest peaceful demonstration in US history. For many people, this was their first opportunity to join in a nationwide demonstration for a healthy and sustainable environment. As a result, by the end of 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This law requires that the federal government use “all practicable means to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in harmony” and to “promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man”. The Environmental Protection Agency was also created in 1970, followed by the Clean Air Act (1970), Clean Water Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973).

So as you enjoy Earth Day 2018 with family and friends, remember that all it takes is that “small group of committed citizens” working together with shared goals to keep our small patch of Earth in Prince William County beautiful. Thank you for all you do!


The Official Earth Day Anthem from the European Union. 

Joyful joyful we adore our Earth in all its wonderment

Simple gifts of nature that all join into a paradise
Now we must resolve to protect her
Show her our love throughout all time
With our gentle hand and touch
We make our home a newborn world
Now we must resolve to protect her
Show her our love throughout all time
With our gentle hand and touch

We make our home a newborn world

Cooks’ Update, April 10, 2018, by Amy Foelsch

Happenings in the Cook’s Garden…

New skill sets, tools, and muscles were used as we began constructing the new deer fence. Jean and Thomas prepared the day before by measuring and marking exactly where each fence post would go. We also prepped ourselves by watching some short how-to videos on the site. Using a sledgehammer, eight sleeves were pounded into the ground. Steel posts then slid into these sleeves.  It’s a two-person job: one holds a board on top of the sleeve, the other does the pounding. A level is used to periodically check and straighten the sleeve as it moves into the earth. This part of the project requires a serious amount of partner trust; the goal is that the person holding the board will walk away with all fingers intact. I’m happy to report all our fingers are in good working order! Due to the loud pounding we initially wore ear protection, but quickly learned this was not a good idea. The earmuffs did such a great job of muffling sound that Jean couldn’t hear us when we needed her to stop pounding. Needless to say, if Pam had her video equipment at the garden, we would have had new material to add to our growing bloopers reel.

Stay tuned, as next week we hope to finish the job. In the meantime, we have this Saturday, April 14 to look forward to.  Master Gardener Nancy Hanrahan will be kicking off Saturday in the Garden 2018 at 9:00 am by discussing plant propagation.  Make sure to register at It’s free!

Best, Amye




Cook’s Garden Update 4/3/18, by Amy Foelsch

Happenings in the Cook’s Garden…

Most of our cool season crops were tucked into Mother Earth today. Jean supplied us with cabbage, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and some onions. Kale, sugar snap and snow pea seeds were also planted. Sheep Gibson has lovingly been brought out of hibernation to join us for another garden season. Make sure to check out Charlene’s raised bed to see a unique way to create a layout for small space gardening. She has also made some adorable signs to mark the names of each garden bed. Next week we will focus on weeding, and the building of the new fence.

Have a good week!


Hügelkultur: A Great Way to Use All Those Sticks

The Mid Atlantic and Northeast had wild March weather this year including some major wind storms.  Homeowners and businesses alike were inundated with downed trees, broken branches and millions of twigs. In addition to bundling up the twigs and setting out for trash pickup, many found themselves hiring companies to help with clean up. If you have the space and lots of debris from the storms, you might want to try Hügelkultur, a composting program using raised beds that simulates the natural decomposition found in forests.


Hügelkultur, , the German word for mound or hill culture, has been practiced in Germany and Eastern Europe for many centuries. This form of Permaculture,   ( replicates the natural nutrient cycling found on forest floors by allowing for the decomposition of biomass by soil organisms such as myccorrhizae, bacteria, insects and fungi.  Hügelkultur is an excellent way for farmers and gardeners to use up woody debris after winter and spring storms, including logs, branches, leaves, and even whole trees. Much like the “nurse” logs found in our forests, this on site composting technique is an great alternative to dumping in landfills or burning wood waste.

The benefits of using Hügelkultur are many. This composting system uses raised beds constructed from decaying wood debris and other biomass such as straw, leaves, cardboard, grass clippings, garden waste, non-seeding weeds, petroleum-free newspaper, herbicide-free manure, and compost. It improves soil fertility,  provides water retention and storage, and benefits plants grown near the mound by slowly releasing water.  As the wood and other materials decay, the woody detritus becomes sponge-like, storing and releasing rainfall slowly back to the environment, and helping to prevent excess nutrient runoff into groundwater.

Hügelkultur beds are ideal in areas with poor and compacted soil, and are easy to maintain. The system mimics nutrient cycling in woodlands by returning carbon and nitrogen to the soil, slowly providing these nutrients to nutrient-poor soils. This gradual decay is a consistent long-term source of nutrients for up to 20 years.  Additionally, the process of decomposition releases heat benefiting spring crops planted on or nearby, and extends the growing season.

Building Hügelkultur mounds is very easy! Many people choose a no-till system, but starting with a trench is also common.

  1. Select a site
  2. Remove the sod, if applicable
  3. Dig a trench approximately 3′ by 6′,  and 1′-2′ deep.  Save the soil and sod
  4. Lay largest logs and wood chunks into the trench, first
  5. Layer smaller branches on top of logs
  6. Continue layering woody material  with organic material, placing the smallest pieces on top.
  7. Push vegetative material such as grass clippings or compost into the crevices, leaving air spaces.
  8. Keep layering to form a 3′ tall pyramid shape. This will settle over time.
  9. Top with a layer of manure, if on hand. (this will act as the “green” or nitrogen source
  10. Place sod, grass side down. (also an initial source of nitrogen)
  11. Return soil removed from the trench or other good quality soil, and place on top of sod.
  12. Mulch and plant a cover crop, such as crimson clover the first year.
  13. Allow to cure for a season before planting vegetables and/or flowers.
  14. No tilling is needed, and water is only needed during drought periods.


Recommended Wood:

Alder, aspen, birch, beech, oak, maple, poplar, willow (with no living sprouts/suckers) work best.

Softwoods such as spruce, fir and pine will also work.

Avoid the following: Black locust, black walnut, redwood, cedar and Osage orange

Additional Tips: Add a good amount of high nitrogen/green material in the top layers to compensate for the initial nitrogen draw down as decomposition begins. This includes grass clippings and non-herbicide manure from herbivores. The following plants are recommended for the first year due to the initial nitrogen draw down: Alfalfa, beans, clover, cilantro, lentils, peas,peppers.

Come visit our Hügelkultur beds at the Teaching Garden this year!

Additional Resources: