Walk on the wild side

The garden is bordered to the south by a sliver of mature poplars and maples, and to the west by a water retention area that was botched in construction, which resulted in a poorly drained swamp that is impossible to keep cleared of cattails and brambles. Over twenty years I have planted more of this and that than I can recall, built four small ponds and a large one, and killed more plants than most people will plant in their lifetime. Now, the garden looks decent, some days a bit better when there’s a riot of blooms, and birds and butterflies swooping about.

The garden is best described as a mishmash of trees, shrubs, and perennials with little discernible planning, but with enough order to know that a human hand has meddled in the process. Occasionally I’ll wander through the forest, sometimes to keep the brambles and poison ivy under control, to dig out the stray barberry, burning bush, or multiflora rose that have popped up, but more often to see what’s blooming.

At the midpoint of the property a trickle of a spring keeps an area at the forest’s edge damp, and here Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris, above) and skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) grow in abundance. The ferns have spread until they’ve encountered the shallow roots of swamp maples, so that there is a nice colony of a few hundred square feet. Through the years I have borrowed a few to transplant to the garden, where they have merrily spread without the interference of the maple roots.

In years past mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) spread happily under the forest canopy, but since the property developer harvested some trees for timber they have declined and occupy only a few small areas. There are still scattered native American hollies (Ilex opaca), dogwoods (Cornus florida, above), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum) that poke their heads from beneath the tall maples. The hollies and dogwoods seed themselves readily, though the sassafras appear to be in decline.

Over the years I have carved a bit of a swale to drain the seepage from the spring to a more defined area, and this now winds its way to the swampy retention area. Along the damp depression, and at the edge of the marsh where blackberry brambles and cattails have not overwhelmed everything else, there is a marvelous jumble of sunflowers (Helianthus, at top of page), goldenrod (Solidago), Blue Mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum, above), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), and miscellany that flowers through the year, but more in late summer. The garden I have established is more organized, but no more beautiful in bloom.

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