Create your own wooded paradise in the backyard
I guess I should attribute my love of forest gardening to Errol Flynn, the MGM swagger of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. My mom had a crush on the daring star, and every time one of her movies was on The Late Show , or The Late, Late Show, or The Late, Late, Late Show, my brother and I were allowed, almost forced, to stand up and watch.
But there was one Flynn movie in particular that caught my eye – “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, 1938. Although we were looking at a blurry image on a small black and white platter, with a set of “ears rabbit “scalloped with foil antenna, there was something enchanting about Sherwood Forest calling me. As soon as I found out how to use my thumb, my quest to find my own Sherwood Forest began.
Flash forward, back to the future, and here I am in my own Sherwood Forest in Greenbrier County, an area known to be one of the most botanically rich regions on planet Earth.
Even if you are a “city dweller” on a small lot in town and have no acres to play with, you can still create a forest island to enjoy. All you need is some shade or dappled sun. You don’t have to be like me, immediately bite more than you can chew. Start slow and small, and see how easy it is.
The first thing you need to assess is the quality of your soil. Is it rich in organic matter? Is it rocky and dry? Is it clay? Is it a troubled lawn in the shade?
No matter what it is, it’s pretty easy to change. If there isn’t a lot of organic matter in the soil, you can get peat moss bales from Lowe’s for no more than $ 10 each to mix. If it is clay, you can use a gypsum product like “Turface” (brand name), which only costs a few dollars a bag, and it eats this clay, then you can add manure. dehydrated cow and peat moss for organic matter. If it is a lawn where you tried to grow grass in the shade, tear it up.
If this all seems like too much work already, fear not, it really is pretty quick and easy. If you have a small tiller, it will make your job even easier. I like the Honda FG-110. It is small, light and very easy to use. Don’t worry if you don’t have a tiller: you can cultivate the soil with a garden fork.
Once you’ve prepared your soil, you’ll want to think about your palette of plants. Probably the easiest plants to grow in a woodland shade garden are ferns. In this part of West Virginia we have very many native fern species, and chances are, if you’re a city dweller, you have a lot of friends who are more rural than you. They most likely have acres of ferns in the woods on their farms, and they would surely be happy to share some with you. Ferns are very easy to transplant and are perfect for the backbone of your new woodland garden. There is also a plethora of mail order nurseries that offer an incredible array of ferns, native and non-native.
If you are embarking on this large-scale endeavor, I suggest you consider an inexpensive auger that will fit your DE Walt 20V half-inch cordless drill perfectly. In good soil, you can drill over 400 holes in an hour. Be warned: Hold the drill with both hands, because if you come across a large stone or root it could twist your wrist like a pretzel.
Rocky ground? No problem! You don’t have to be a stonemason to lay rock dry, whether it’s rounded creek rocks or flat and shale-like. Just stack them. If you are on sloping ground, stack them on the underside of your beds like in the picture above.
If you are working with a small space, you can create your “fern” in just about any shape imaginable. My fern island bed is prominently displayed Adiantum pedatum (Fern girl), Osmunda regalis (Fern interrupted), Phegopteris hexagonoptera (Large beech fern) Onoclea Sensitis (Sensitive Fern) to name a few.
These fern species are all native to the east coast and very easy to grow. With a little topsoil, good mulch, and recycled railroad ties to stabilize a crumbling slope, these ferns naturalized fairly quickly.
There are so many other woodland plants that transplant as easily as ferns, but at 867 words so far I’ve run out of space here, so you’ll have to log in next time to find out more.