Autumn Savanna

Autumn Savanna

 Many people tell me that they would love to have a prairie garden, but they have too much shade.

My answer?  You can have a savanna or woodland garden with a diversity of forbs and grasses every bit as as ravishing as a prairie–just with different plants.

Last week I described and showed you my sunny prairie gardens with several species of asters along with their companions of Prairie Baby’s Breath and Little Bluestem.

This week I’m going to take you to a local, in town, savanna garden that belongs to fellow Wild Ones members with asters, goldenrods, eupatorium, and grasses that grow in part shade.

The Prairie Garden and the Savanna Garden have a different look, but both are equally beautiful.











The Entrance Garden begins with the native Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana),  mentioned last November.



A path leads around the front porch.























True to a Jens Jensen design, the path opens up to a clearing–a small lawn surrounded by scattered trees underplanted with forbs and grasses.




















The clearing at Jens Jensen’s studio in Highland Park.  Although this is a larger scale, the concept and design are the same.

View toward the house. A huge deck–visible at the top of the photo–overlooks the bountiful, partially shaded back yard that blooms from May into October.








There are paths through the savanna–indeed, there is a path that leads into the neighbors’ back yard.













The clearing is surrounded by a panoply of plants that begins to bloom in May and    doesn’t quit until November.  In September through mid-October, the gardens are a quilt of azure, gold, and alabaster blossoms.

The arching, golden-flowering stems of Elm-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia) resemble exploding fireworks.  The flowers bloom at the top of a 2-3’ tall straight stalk clothed with small, serrated, elm-like leaves.  It begins to bloom mid-August, fading by the end of September.  In the wild, it is frequent in open oak woodlands.

Patches, waves, and sweeps of Short’s Aster (Aster shortii) create a blue haze throughout the garden. Terminal clusters of lovely, lavender-blue blossoms form on the open panicled, leafy plant, in bloom from late August through mid-October.   It grows anywhere from 1-4’ tall.  Found most often in nature in mesic woods,  it nevertheless thrives in my open savanna garden, my shady patio garden, and all along the east side of my house–most of it self-seeded.


The conspicuous blossoms of White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) add punch to the blue and gold color pallet.  Light green, arrow-shaped, opposite leaves set off the terminal clusters of white ageratum-like flowers that bloom in August and September.   It grows from 1 to 3’ tall. It tends to be weedy; but if it has enough competition, as it does here, it is a welcome addition.  Common in woodlands, it grows in deep or partial shade.  In the home garden it’s one of those rare plants that grows and blooms in dry shade.


Canada Wild Rye,  Bottlebrush Grass, and Carex cephalaphora are also notable this time of year..


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