Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat
Photo by Mary McMullen: Indian Pink, Mayapple and Christmas Fern grace this shady parking lot garden at Native Nurseries
February 21, 2014
By Donna Legare
I have always loved secret gardens. There is something enchanting about passing through an archway or space between two shrubs into a little clearing surrounded by wild violets, deep green ferns and fragrant wild azaleas. Picture yourself entirely surrounded by evergreen shrubs, blue sky above, sitting in a comfy chair invisible to the rest of the world.
We have been working on a secret garden at Native Nurseries for several years. The major backdrop is formed by some large mountain laurels that were planted in the early 1980s. When we started the garden a few years ago, we had to plant 3 more mountain laurels and a Florida anise to make the rest of the backdrop and they have not filled in yet; this is a work in progress. There is also a magnolia and agarista that help form the secret garden as well as a homemade cedar/bamboo fence along one side.
We created a short path and small stone patio on which sit two chairs and a low table. We added wild azaleas, native ferns, lots of Indian pinks, wild phlox, bloodroot, Jack-in-the-pulpit and other woodland wildflowers. This is a quiet retreat where my husband Jody eats lunch on a busy Saturday. Once I noticed that one of the chairs was missing from the secret garden and I soon found the chair along with Jody deep inside one of the big mountain laurels which enveloped an excellent hiding place. He was reading his book in peace.
You don’t need to have a secret garden to enjoy a wildflower garden. To start your own woodland wildflower garden, select a shady spot in your yard. Dig into the soil. Is it well- drained? Is it easy to dig down? If not, you may need to add organic matter to the area. If the shade is high (large pines or hardwoods), you may want to plant a native shrub or small tree. A wild azalea, Florida anise or Ashe magnolia would make a nice centerpiece. Then plant a variety of woodland wildflowers around it.
One of the shady islands in our parking lot is fun to watch throughout the seasons. It is anchored by an Ashe magnolia tree which sports huge leaves and equally huge white flowers with purple markings in April. The wildflower parade begins in late winter.
First up are the mottled green leaves and deep maroon flowers of trillium and the dainty white flowers of bloodroot. Wild violets are blooming at the same time, as are the bright yellow trout lilies. Soon to follow are the green hooded flowers of Jack-in-the-pulpit. Woodland phlox is just beginning to bloom; by March its purple masses will be very showy. About the same time, the red and yellow bells of wild columbine will appear over taller fern-like foliage, attracting the first of the ruby-throated hummingbirds to return this spring. By May, Indian pink is in full bloom, its red tubular blossoms also attractive to hummingbirds.
Do not mulch the garden except with the leaves that naturally fall there. This will enable the wildflowers to spread by seed over time. If they are happy, they will spread! Set up a chair or bench nearby to enjoy your tranquil garden.
Donna Legare is co-owner of Native Nurseries and a member of the Leon County/UF Extension Urban Forestry/Horticulture Newspaper Column Working Group. For more information about gardening in our area, visit http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at email@example.com