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A Woods Garden

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 28 December 2001

From Howard Park, the forest has over the years spread onto our property. I don't think our woods are original, because the soil is poor, not the park's springy accumulation of leaves and pine needles. There, many more species of plants thrive than in our woods; for example it's only been in the past five years that I've seen the native partridge berry make its way into our land from the park. (And I'm delighted to see its tiny, delicate, shiny green leaves with the pale contrasting veins and bright shiny red berries, creeping over the ground.)

In the time since our house was built, about 1872, the woods has clearly crept forward to overtake plants that were part of the original garden: two varieties of rose, old-fashioned daylilies — and an apple tree, which as the woods encroached, responded by leaning out away from them seeking sun, till over the years it has grown into a fantastic arch, one of the most striking parts of my garden when it flowers.

Ward and I have cleared the young trees out of the old garden. (They were mostly maples, easy to dig up — even medium-sized ones — because of their shallow roots.) That left about twenty feet by fifty of big old pines, a few tall maples and cherry trees, and one oak. Under them, I've been clearing out the saplings to start a woods garden. To enrich the soil, for the past three years I've put all the leaves we rake up there, sometimes adding greensand and blood meal to help them decompose. In addition, I've got a compost frame there temporarily, to take advantage of the nutrients that leach into the earth below. Wherever I've had compost, for years after it gets moved, anything growing there flourishes.

Still those pines are thirsty; they will rob other plants of water even if the soil is more moisture-retentive. Most plants I know that thrive in both shade and dry conditions, are invasive — and I don't want them to get into the park. I'm happy for the park plants to invade my land — like the partridge berry — but since the ones I need tend to be the endangered ones, I won't dig them up and bring them here. So for the past few years I have been growing seeds of native plants sold by the New England Wildflower Society. I'm looking forward to this year's catalog coming soon.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark