Woodland wildflowers once established are an easier way of gardening, but there is work to get to that point. If you’ve ever taken a walk through the woods you know what the soil beneath your feet feels like. It is soft, loose and quite dark in appearance. It is damp to the touch and is probably 4-8 inches thick.
Now think about how it got that way. The forest floor is covered with years and years of fallen leaves and sticks that Mother Nature and her hoard of worms, insects and microscopic organisms has turned into a wonderful humus rich layer of leaf mold and natural compost.
Humus rich soil is a marvelous commodity and provides for all the nutrients your woodland wildflowers need to grow and thrive. So before you can even think about the plants you’ve got to somehow recreate this natural environment.
In addition to the soil, you’ll need trees that provide partial shade and preferably a slightly damp situation. Dry shade is not typical for woodland wildflowers.
If you already enjoy a wooded lot or a shady yard you might have a good spot to create a garden for woodland wildflowers. So now that you know where you want this natural garden, you have to prepare the soil.
Clear out the undesirable undergrowth and if necessary thin the overhanging canopy to create dappled shade. Now rake off the surface but don’t really disturb the soil. The reason for this is you don’t want to disturb the tree roots beneath the soil. What you’re going to do instead is add humus rich soil to the surface. You can use your own leaves and if you can chop them up they will decompose quicker.
If you’re planning to create your woodland wildflower garden over the period of a few years you can keep adding to leaves and the earth’s unseen insects will develop your soil for you, but if you want it to decompose more quickly you could use a product that is sold to be used in compost bins. Sprinkle it over your chopped up leaves and sticks and keep it moist.
If your woodland wildflowers are going to be in a small area, perhaps as edging to a side lot you won’t need a path, but if you’re planning a larger area you’ll need a path so that you can enjoy this woodland paradise without stepping on your precious plants.
So your next step in creating this garden is to build a path, and keep in mind what you’re trying to do. Keep it simple and out of natural materials if possible so that it blends in with your garden and isn’t going to be high maintenance when its finished.
Before you even acquire any woodland wildflowers you might want consider starting with some hosta and ferns, as both of these perennials are nice complements to woodland wildflowers. Like the wildflowers, once established your hostas and ferns are very low maintenance.
Most woodland wildflowers bloom in the spring and then die back later in the season. which is another reason why you want some other shade loving plants in this garden, and now we’re to the good part-the plants themselves!
The best woodland wildflowers are native plants, which is another reason they are so self-sufficient. They are already adapted to your environment and don’t need the coddling that some of the fancy hybrids do, but whatever you do, don’t go out to the woods and start digging up the plants that grow there to transplant in your yard. First of all it’s illegal, and furthermore many woodland wildflowers are fragile and will not survive the transplanting process.
Wildflowers, like so many other things, need our appreciation and consideration. If they are to survive it will be because we as humans recognize and choose to protect them. Already some are rare because of human abuse: disturbing their fragile environments, over picking, and ignorance of their importance to the ecosystems they live in.
Instead, take your camera, a notebook and a good wildflower identification book to the woods and do some homework. Take pictures of scenes you might want to try to recreate, take pictures of plants you want to identify and pay attention to where you see your favorite plants growing.
Now either try to identify them yourself with your wildflower guide or take them to a reputable nursery that specializes in
Nursery propagated woodland wildflowers. I can’t stress this enough. Remember, too, that not all nurseries are created equal! You definitely want to go to a nursery that has high standards and a good reputation for strong, healthy nursery propagated plants.
Here are some of my favorite woodland wildflowers. Native columbine, bleeding heart, Virginia bluebells, Dutchman’s breeches, wild and creeping phlox, Jacob’s ladder, Solomon’s seal, foam flowers, and woodland violets.
Trilliums, dogtooth violets, and Jack-in-the Pulpit are bulbs, but are also considered woodland wildflowers. I don’t have any of these bulbs myself, but a girlfriend of mine always orders hers from catalogs. Her favorite catalog for ordering woodland wildflowers that are native to SE Wisconsin is the Jung Seeds & Plants catalog.
Most woodland wildflowers will come bare root and should probably be planted carefully and as soon as possible according to the directions that come with your plants.
Some perennials that are complementary to woodland wildflowers and bloom later in the season include monkshood, ligularia, and astilbe.
Woodland wildflowers are usually subtle in their color and delicate in appearance. They are restful on the eye and need to be appreciated for their variations of green and their leaf texture, but if you need that pop of color during the summer season you could add annual impatiens and coleus to the borders of your garden.
My shade garden continues to change every year, as will yours. This year I’m planning to add some Dutchman’s breeches because I love the unusual shape (thus the name) of the tiny white flowers that are produced in the spring.
Good luck with your woodland wildflower garden and as always thank you for gardening with Julie.
Gardening for Bees
Gardening for Nature
Spring Woodland Flowers
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