William P. Wright

Lighten up a woodland landscape with bright foliage and flowers

Jim McCausland  – March 31, 2008

In spring, woodland gardens like this one in Woodinville, Washington, are irresistible.

Epimediums and forget-me-not flowers crowd the forest floor; daffodils form yellow clumps where sunshine reaches them; and chalky white birch trunks rise above a variegated carpet of bishop’s weed.

But this corner garden wasn’t always so charming. When landscape designer Karen Steeb and husband David bought the property, it was shaded by dark evergreens and choked by a 10-foot-tall thicket of blackberries.

Karen decided to keep the native trees, which provide a sense of scale and help screen her house from neighbors and the street. But the blackberries had to go, and the shaded, all-green landscape needed a serious infusion of color and texture.

She started by planting birches (Betula jacquemontii), dogwoods, a saucer magnolia, and a tapestry of shrubs, since they would cover the slope and supplant weeds (and take the longest to fill in). Given her love for flowering evergreens, she added a fine collection of camellias, rhododendrons, and viburnums.

Finally, Karen planted perennials, ferns, and groundcovers, including lilies-of-the-valley, sweet woodruffs, and violets for fragrance. The sun-dappled woodland still has a native feel, but with a more personal and unexpected touch.



Plant a succession of blooms
In April, this garden is colored with bluebells, camellias, daffodils, epimediums, goat’s beard (Aruncus aethusifolius), a saucer magnolia, and violets. A month later, main-season rhododendrons share the stage with callas, forget-me-not flowers, and Siberian irises. By June, it’s all daylilies, hydrangeas, Japanese irises, and white valerian.

Take advantage of wet soil
After clearing the blackberries, Karen found a large natural damp area – not uncommon in Northwest gardens. That’s where she planted water-loving perennials such as globeflowers (Trollius chinensis), Ligularia, Rodgersia, and umbrella plants (Darmera peltata). Standard white callas and Japanese irises also do well in damp soil.

Use the slope
Because the driveway follows the contour of the land, the property doesn’t seem as steep as it is. But viewed from both the street and driveway, the slope serves as a giant easel for flowering shrubs and perennials.

Weed and feed in one step
Every other February, the Steebs spread a 4-inch layer of local Cedar Grove compost through the garden. It keeps down weeds, slowly feeds the plants, and minimizes the need for extra water (the garden intentionally has no irrigation system).

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