When we moved here in 1985, there was a wild area in a little valley on the other side of the drive. It was grown over with tangles of vines as thick as my wrist and weeds that could swallow a man whole. Bad boys in the neighborhood sometimes would go down there to read girly magazines and smoke cigarettes. They once caught the woods on fire, and Helena's fire department had to come put out the blaze.
Each year Lou and I would attempt to tame the rampant overgrowth, and I came to understand how my state acquired its name. Alabama comes from an old Choctaw Indian word meaning "I clear the thicket."
One year I decided to turn the area into a garden. It contained some beautiful dogwood, oak, and pine trees, but part of it was sunny and I didn't deliberately decide to create a woodland garden. For years I called it my weed garden, because at first most of the plants could be classified as that. But a lot of them bloomed, so I welcomed them into my scheme. Over time the space took on its own character and told me what to do with it.
It was an enormous project, but each step was an improvement. Here is what I did, gradually as energy and budget allowed:
1. I cut meandering paths through the weeds and around the trees with a string trimmer. I kept the paths cut to the ground on a regular schedule, and I added rocks along the edge of parts of the paths to better define them.
2. Where necessary, I limbed up trees overhanging the paths so I could walk easily under them.
3. I smothered large areas of obnoxious weeds. I used brown grocery sacks, newspaper, and cut-up cardboard boxes. I put these on top of the weeds, then covered them with a thick mulch of pine straw. This immediately made the space look better and eventually improved the soil. I also continued to hand pull weeds and spray stuff like poison oak with round-up.
4. I cut holes through the pine straw mulch and began planting. On the hillside I planted ground covers, including mondo grass, spreading cotoneaster, junipers, and a number of shrubs and trees. I incorporated preexisting plants such as native yaupon holly, mahonia and nandina. I continued to add new plants each spring and fall, among which are:
hosta, ferns, and heuchera
and many more!
5. I discovered that moss grew naturally in the paths I had cut, so I began encouraging its growth by sprigging pieces of it throughout the paths and by keeping fallen leaves raked away. Eventually the moss grew thick enough that I no longer had cut the paths with a string trimer. Hooray! Now I just hand pull weeds from time to time. As more moss fills in, I am having to do even this less often.
6. I added some manmade focal points with a rabbit at the entrance and a little bench for sitting to enjoy it all. I hung some wind chimes and a birdhouse.
7. One day I blinked and discovered that it had become a shady, even romantic retreat, and I began to officially call it my woodland garden.
Here are some recent images taken in the woodland garden:
And a few featured plants:
May you all take time to walk in a woodland, to listen to birds and to feel a breeze; may you fill your heart in the embrace of nature. Deborah
You can see more images taken recently of the woodland garden in my last post, A Crime Scene on a Beautiful Day.