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Dear Friend and Gardener

Tranquility in the Shade

The Cathedral Walk

Cathedral Walk at Mt. Cuba Center

The Master Gardeners organized a wonderful garden tour to Philadelphia and environs.  Both Chanticleer and the Mt.CubaCenter gave us the shade of a woodland and I am so glad both were included.

The first garden we went to was Chanticleer. Once the Rosengarten estate, it opened as a public garden in 1993. I had expected lush, but neat beds of exotic flowers, but what I found at Chanticleer was a peaceful garden with large potted plants in the terraces around the house, a vegetable garden that donated its produce to the local food bank, and sunny “wildflower” hills with paths that led down to shady woodlands,. That shade was especially welcome on what was the hottest day of our tour.

Drinking fountain

Artistic drinking fountain

One of the design and functional elements in the garden that provided sustainability for visitors was the presence of drinking fountains! It has been a long time since I have seen drinking fountains in public spaces and to find drinking water on a blistering hot day was a blessing.

In addition we found beautiful handmade bridge railings and benches for moments to rest and enjoy the tranquility of the shade. Every sense was engaged, the whisper of the breezes in the trees, the play of light and shadow over the green plantings, and the quieting of busy thoughts.

Though the woodlands provided green shade there was color like the Indian pinks which were actually red with a touch of yellow, and buttery yellow corydalis.

On our second day we traveled to the Mt.Cuba Center where our group spent most of our time in a shady woodland. When the Copeland family bought this land it was always their intent “to be a place where people will learn to appreciate our native plants and to see how these plants can enrich their lives so that they, in turn, will become conservators of our natural habitats.” It was just a joy to wander through the woodland filled with rhododendrons beneath tall tulip poplars that had been limbed up so high that the effect was of strolling past pillars and down a cathedral aisle.

One of the trees had been trimmed with a “coronet cut” which means that instead of just slicing off the top of a damaged tree, the cut imitated the irregular way a tree might have been naturally damaged and broken. That natural cut causes a faster rotting process that attracts birds and insects, a kind of conservation that goes beyond just caring for plants on the ground.

As we walked along the light and shade would alter and shift providing enough sunlight to allow plants to thrive and bloom.

Oakleaf hydrangea blossom close up

Oakleaf hydrangea blossom close up

There were many native oakleaf hydrangeas in the woodland. Our guide pointed out that the ray flowers, what we think of as real flowers, are only intended to attract insects to the tiny ‘true’ flowers which is where the nectar and pollen are located. I am going to examine the hydrangeas I planted to see if these hybrids provide the same temptations to pollinators. I had wanted to buy at least one oakleaf hydrangea for our South Border, but I could not find one locally in 2015 – and I was too impatient to wait another season to plant.

Pondside primroses and ferns

Pondside primroses and ferns

One path led to a series of ponds that reflected the dappled sunlight and the surrounding trees. I was fascinated and inspired to see primroses, irises and ferns living on the banks of the ponds, as well as other unidentified water-loving plants. I began to think this was the answer to our question of how to handle the edges of the “dry stream bed” we are creating as part of our flood management plan.

Pitcher plants

Pitcher Plants

One pond included a boggy section that was planted with pitcher plants. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that lure insects that drown in its fluids. The insects decay  and the enzymes produced by the plant allow the plant to absorb all the nutrients. These are fascinating plants and always exciting to young children who visit the garden.

I was paying particular attention to low growing plants because our low maintenance garden strategy is to have large shrubs, low ground covers and a few flowering perennials and annuals to provide color. We saw large areas of pachysandra procumbens, a native plant also known as Allegheny spurge. It looks a lot like the pachysandra we see in so many gardens, and it produces small fragrant blossoms in the spring, but the leaves are not as shiny.

Green and gold, Chrysogonum virginiana, is only six inches tall but the small yellow flowers bloom in spring and fall. It likes moist shade, and is hardy in Greenfield. I have not seen this used locally, but I will be on the watch, and will be checking the offerings at Nasami Farm, the native plant nursery in Whately.

There was so much to see at these two gardens that included sunny and formal areas as well as the woodlands, but it was thought-provoking to consider that these two families were thinking of the importance of native plants and conservation, long before popular garden books, magazines, and even botanical gardens stressed the importance of these issues. Visiting these gardens give us examples of beauty that can inspire us as we consider changes in our own gardens. And there are always changes in our gardens.

Between the Rows   July 8, 2017

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