Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A New Home, A New Yard, A New Challenge.....

 It's been almost 3 years since I last posted to this blog, for which I apologize.  Life has presented challenges for me, personally, during that time, as it has for all of us around the world.

We moved from Florida to southeast Virginia in August 2019, so I had to leave my Gulf Coast garden behind for others to tend and begin a new garden here in the Williamsburg area.  This is proving to be a real challenge.

For the first time in many years of gardening, I find myself floundering, even with the basic thoughts of what I want to do in this yard.  While I love trees and woodlands, I'm unsure how to proceed in our secondary growth, eastern deciduous forested yard.  My goals seem strong, yet confusingly nebulous:  use native plants and improve the habitat, while designing a yard that encourages others to WANT a native landscape and that fits in with the somewhat traditional neighborhood we live in.

This photo was taken today from the front of our house, looking towards the street.  I've started incorporating fallen wood and wood from having our trees trimmed, but that's a post for another time.  As always, during the winter, you can see the "bones" (which are rather bare), but there are perennials and ferns moving in... you can see from this photo, taken from the front porch taken in mid October.  So far, however, it's all very haphazard.

So, to give you an outline:  our yard is 2/3 acre, with 100' tall deciduous trees and understory trees.  The only shrubs present were planted by prior owners and are almost exclusively non-native ornamentals, while the ground layer was dominated by Japanese stilt grass and assorted other non-native weedy plants when we moved in.

I have spent the last 2 summers learning about and observing our yard.  Weeding has been my primary activity, pulling out stilt grass and other weeds like false strawberry, oriental hawksbeard, and ground ivy. While I've weeded, I've watched to see what plants I find buried within the weeds and seeding in.  There have been some fun finds along the way:

striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata),

cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor),

cutleaf grape fern (Sceptridium dissectum), 

and southern adder's tongue (Ophioglossum pycnostichum).  None of these plants are large or showy, but all 4 of these species are dependent on mycorrhizae in the soil, which tickles me because it means that our soil still has some serious life in it and is, presumably, fairly healthy.

Moss covers many areas of the soil - and I have quickly learned that it is a wonderful seedbed for other plants, desirable and otherwise.

Serendipitously, I am finding seedlings of wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and a few perennials like old field aster (Symphotrichum pilosum), mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum) and golden ragwort (Packera aurea), a healthy clump of which showed up on its own.

Above is a clump of aster that self seeded into the front bed by our walkway.  I think it's an old field aster, but I'm not completely sure, since this one is taller and airier than the others.  That could, of course, simply be due to higher levels of shade.  If you look closely, you can see some mist flower in front of it - they make a nice combination, I think, blooming at essentially the same time.  The aster is much too large for this spot, though, and will be moved this spring.  I'm not sure if I'll be moving the mist flower along with it.

Several different kinds of ferns have shown up in the yard as well, including the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) you see to the left here, sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), and others that I'm still leery of naming with any certainty.

Now that I'm ready to change from focusing on weeding and discovery to planning and planting, I'm stuck on dead center.  The best I've come up with so far is to create a path through a "woodland garden", then plant the garden alongside it that will make the path enjoyable.  I also dearly want some sort of screen between the front of the house and the road. 

Meanwhile, I'm "leaving the leaves" and hoping to encourage a healthier soil microbiome and more invertebrate life.  So far I've seen few invertebrates at ground level, which worries me.

So wish me luck, please.  On this project, I can use all the luck and good wishes that I can get!

And help me, please, to keep perspective about my fellow "gardeners" here: the deer, the voles, and the Asiatic garden beetles.  They, too, are an integral part of the challenge of gardening in this beautiful area.

At least they don't seem to like ferns.



Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Glad you are back to writing!! To get some ideas of what to plant I think you should go to the York County Master Gardener Learning Garden. It is on Goodwin Neck Road. Lots of woodland garden to explore, plants are labeled and on Thursday mornings (maybe not in the winter) there are many MG working in the garden and can lead you to some good ideas of plant material.
One suggestion for shrubbery- Clethra alnifolia. The deer leave it alone for the most part. Pair it with Itea virginica - another one left alone.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thanks, Janet! I'm excited to be back blogging, too.

Thank you for the tip about the York County Master Gardener Learning Garden; I've heard of it before, but I haven't made it over there yet. Sounds like a great place to visit this spring.

I've put in a couple Clethra near the house; the deer tasted them shortly afterwards, but have left them alone since then. I love Clethra, so will probably use more of it in the future.

I'm planning on leaving the wax myrtle and spicebush seedlings and letting them grow up. The deer don't seem to be bothering them either. Another plant I'm trying to establish is beauty berry; New Quarter Park near us has quite a bit and the deer don't seem to bother it at all.

I've actually heard that deer love Itea. Maybe I need to get a start or two and experiment.....

If you have any other thoughts, I'd love to hear them!

Jungle Woman said...

Nice synopsis and pictures, Cynth! Thanks! Dot

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

What a beautiful, peaceful property. So many plants I have no idea about it. You're not on the prairie anymore!

Gaia Gardener: said...

The plant palette in this yard is VERY different, especially since our yard is almost all shade. Sunny pollinator gardens in the area have many plants that are familiar to prairie folks, but the forested areas have a much broader plant palette than wooded areas in Kansas. It's amazing what more regular water allows.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Glad you stopped by, Dot! Looking forward to any suggestions you may have......

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

Welcome back to blogging! Looking forward to reading how you develop your new property. What about adding some shrubs that also support birds such as winterberry holly, black chokeberry, viburnum? I like the idea of dividing your woodland space with defined trails. Deer are certainly a challenge especially with a new garden. Best, Karin

ProfessorRoush said...

Gaia, so good to see you back! And I wondered how your Florida garden was going....not knowing you've taken a new challenge. Hope things are well and you're ready for the new season!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thanks, Professor Roush!

It feels good to be back. We're well. Hope you and yours are doing well, too.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Karin, It's great to be back and to get your comment! Thanks for stopping by.

I am definitely planning to add shrubs to support birds - I'm letting wax myrtle seedlings that have come up continue to grow (and am looking forward to their evergreen foliage as well as their berries), plus I've also noticed spicebush showing up naturally. Unfortunately, most of the native shrubs are just seedlings, still, so it will be a few years until they look like they are even there. I've added a couple Clethra and two beauty berry (although one of them was uprooted accidentally by my tree guys), plus an arrowwood viburnum, but that's all just a drop in the bucket, I'm afraid. The winterberry holly and black chokeberry are intriguing suggestions. I've never grown either and will need to do a bit of research to make sure I have the conditions they need.

Hope all's well!

Corner Gardener Sue said...

I am no help, since our Nebraska yard has no trees. I enjoyed seeing your woods, and seeing the native plants you have discovered coming up! I think a place like this does not need a flower bed as such, and it sounds like you have decided that, too. I have not posted on my blog for a number of years, and am not sure if I have access to do it anymore. I need to decide if I want to try again.

Gail said...

How exciting and also daunting. I think some structure like paths would give you a sense of garden control. Then you can decide where to add your understory shrubs and small trees. It looks like you have some great ground cover plants. Excited to see what you do. gail

Gaia Gardener: said...

Sue, it was odd. I haven't felt the desire to blog in years, literally, and then suddenly I wanted to write again. I had figured that posting on Facebook was "scratching the itch" to communicate, but I'm finding it really enjoyable to write blog posts again. There are just some things I want to say that won't fit into a brief Facebook post. I just posted another installment and I am finding ideas for several more posts swirling around in my brain. It's giving me quite a lift, frankly.

I was also wondering if I would still have access to my blog. It took me a few minutes to remember how to get started, but once I got in, it's like riding a bicycle. I wouldn't, however, worry about writing again unless you really get the urge. Your Facebook group is wonderful and we get to see your gardens still, just on a different platform.

Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. It's great to see you here again.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Gail, the path that I've started outlining recently is definitely beginning to give me ideas about where (and, in general, what) to plant, at least near the road. Now the challenge will be finding the plants. Surprisingly, the nearest native plant nursery is over an hour away, so it's not an easy jaunt just to browse for ideas or to see what's looking good. Thank goodness for our local native plant group and for the Virginia Living Museum. They both have plant sales in the spring which have been the primary source for the few plants that I've put in so far.

Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.