Woodland gardens and conservation
Do you have shade on your property?Do you often think that this is a problem? If so, I might suggest that an area that is shaded could also be an opportunity to plant a woodland garden. Perhaps even a woodland garden that could give a home to rare plants!
Home gardeners such as us are important players in the collective effort being made to reintroduce and re-establish the native flora and fauna which once called this area home. A woodland garden can be installed anywhere that there is shade. A grove of trees is perhaps the ideal location for a shade garden but really anywhere that you find shadow can work for species adapted for shade. For many folks a shade garden could take shape under a single tree or on the north side of their house.
Plants adapted for life in a shady forest need soil rich in organic matter. You’ll most likely need to add compost to the site and a bit of leaf litter mulch if you are able. A short list of the plants that you might consider adding to your new site could include: Polyganotum biflorum (Solomon’s Seal), Heuchera americana (Alumroot), Trillium grandiflorum (Large flowered Trillium), Packera aurea (Golden Ragwort) and Symphyotrichum cordifolium (Blue Wood Aster).
Perhaps you’d like to take it a bit further! We’ve begun to establish colonies of some of the rarer woodland plants that have been in decline in recent decades. Because of the very real threat of poaching, I will not disclose the location of our efforts but I will mention that we have been slowly building up populations of Panax quinquefolius (American Ginseng), Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal) and Allium tricoccum (Ramps or wild Leeks). These lovely plants have been over harvested over much of their former range so if you can grow them in your shady spots then you can help them survive. The shade garden in your back yard is not the kind of place that plant poachers will look for! We hope to offer them for sale at some point to help more folks join in the effort to re-populate our shady spots. Stay tuned.
Panax quinquefolius (American Ginseng). Allium tricoccum (Ramps or wild Leeks)
Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal)
Hummingbirds are back!
By Brigitte McCauley
As I walk through the flowers at Hummingbird Hill, I hear a chorus of sounds. The warmth has awakened a multitude of blooms and insects alike. Bumblebees cling to blossoms, beneficial flies buzz from flower to flower, and above it all, there's the telltale whir of rapid wings—hummingbirds. The males were first to come, but now the females have returned also. They fly among the insects, sipping nectar from the wild columbines which started to bloom just in time for their arrival.
Wild columbine and bergamot, hummingbird favorites, seem to thrive in the rocky loam here, reseeding readily and creating a better habitat for ruby-throats every year. Being an early blooming plant, wild columbine draws the birds in spring when nectar is difficult to find. When its flowers fade, other species with overlapping bloom times make the area attractive to these fast fliers throughout summer.
Red flowers, such as scarlet beebalm, cardinal flower, and coral honeysuckle are popular, but hummingbirds are also just as happy with subtler colors. Purple giant hyssop, obedient plant, and beardtongues are some of their favorites. Many of the beds here have multiple plants of the same species grouped together as they'd naturally grow, so hummingbirds and other pollinators will notice the blooms easier. There are also small trees that offer perching spots, as well as nesting sites for the females, who act as a single parent, to raise their young.
Dozens of ruby-throats come here each year, enjoying the flowers in the beds and meadow. Several feeders with sugar water are hung around the house and nursery area, but to me, there is something extra special about seeing a hummingbird hovering at a flower. It's a privilege to be able to witness a private moment from a creature that moves so quickly in it's natural environment.
It’s spring and we’re busy preparing for a busy growing season. The wildflower meadow has had its annual mowing which we do in late February or early March. Mowing (or burning) yearly is necessary to maintain a meadow habitat in this part of the world. Without this maintenance the area would quickly revert to an early successional forest. Nothing wrong with forest. We have just chosen to keep this acre of our property as open meadow to increase the habitat diversity that we have to offer.
Our forests are also getting some maintenance. We spend a lot of time throughout the winter months on invasive species control efforts, primarily cutting and pulling non-native bittersweet and honeysuckle. No herbicides used here. Both of these species will climb high into the trees and eventually the weight of the vines will break them off or pull them down especially during wind storms like we saw a few weeks ago. In addition, we are working on increasing the diversity of species in our forested areas by adding in plants that are suitable for the habitat and will add wildlife value and beauty to the area.
The spring ephemerals are starting to bloom. A walk through the woods this time of year might reward you with patches of white, pink or purple blooms in amongst the brown leaves of winter on the forest floor. Bloodroot, spring beauties, cut leaf toothwort, Virginia bluebells, these first wildflowers to bloom each spring take advantage of the sunlight that is able to reach the ground through the still bare trees. Once the trees have their leaves, the spring ephemerals will be in deep shade and finished with the majority of their work for the year. We have only just begun.
The row covers have been removed from the wildflowers that we over winter and we are looking forward to watching them spring back to life. We are now growing over 250 species of plants that are native to Virginia. Species like the spring ephemerals that have evolved here and have an important and unique role to play in feeding and providing housing for native pollinators, butterflies, birds, mammals, and all of the other wildlife that live here.
This is also the time of year to recharge our water catchment system. We have a series of very large rainwater collection barrels linked to all of the gutters on our buildings. In total we can store 5000 gallons of water which we use to water all of the plants in the nursery. Our largest tank holds 2100 gallons. During the freezing months we drain the system to prevent freeze damage to the plumbing. Once the danger of hard freezing has passed we hook it all back up and begin to harvest the rain again! Just in time to begin watering when necessary. Much of our system was financed with assistance from the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. Our rainwater collection helps keep streams cleaner. You could easily do something similar. We’d be happy to provide more details if you’re interested.
We’ll be opening for the 2018 season on Saturday April 14th and will be open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10:00 – 5:00 and by appointment. We’ll also be at a couple of events/plant sales this spring. Check our website or Facebook page for dates.
Come by, visit, check out all the beautiful native plants and make plans on how you can add some to your landscape.