Spring Woodland Savanna Garden

Spring Woodland Savanna Garden

On Mother’s Day, 2009, my son and daughter-in-law and Joey and Kate took me to the Chicago Botanic Garden.  It was on May 11, and was rather cool–in every sense of the word–that day and Spring was late then as it is this year.  While we visited most of the garden, the Pollinator Garden was my favorite.

Bluebells & Shooting Star

It was thickly planted with Virginia Bluebells, Jacob’s Ladder, and Shooting Stars in a partially-shaded area.  Early Meadowrue also popped up amongst the bluebells.  While I have all of these plants in my gardens, they aren’t all in the same bed.  This combination, however, is so spectacular,  that I’m going to replicate it in my own garden.

bluebells best one

While most spring ephemerals are small and delicate-looking, Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are bold and attention getting.  Its pink buds turn into nodding clusters of sky-blue bells on 18-24” stems, lasting well into May.  Its prolific spread is  welcome: existing clumps expand ever larger and new seedlings pop up some distance from the original plants.

Jacob's Ladder 2

The leafy clumps of Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium repans) are decorated with clusters of nodding blue-violet cups that seed themselves cheerfully throughout the garden, as well.  One can almost imagine that the pinnately compound leaves resemble Jacob’s ladder ascending into Heaven.

shooting star i stem

The deep or pale pink reflexed petals of the Shooting Star (Dodecatheon media) surround a pointed, black-circled, yellow beak, and do indeed resemble shooting stars, or less romantically, badminton shuttlecocks.

Early Meadowrue

The lacy divided foliage of Early Meadowrue (Thalictrum dioicum) adds a delicate note  to the composition.

carex sprengellii with bluebells

As you can see, the flowers were planted within a matrix of sedges, mostly Carex sprengellii.  My favorite sedge, its blades arch prettily into lovely chartreuse fountains.  It spreads by rhizomes and seed– a welcome trait in such a lovely plant.  One can never have too many of these.

Carex blanda

Surprisingly, Common Wood Sedge (Carex blanda) was also used.   We tend to consider it a weed because it shows up all over in lawns and gardens without anyone ever planting it.  I have looked at the ones growing in my yard and gardens in a new light, as a result.

bluebells & ferns

Ferns need to be part of this pakage, as well, to hide the fading foliage of the Bluebells after they finish blooming.

shooting star and jacob's ladder  CBG

Jacob’s Ladder and Shooting Star make a charming combination.

If you have a shady spot under a tree or along the north side of a building, don’t fill it with Eurasian groundcovers, such as Periwinkle or Pachysandra or Japanese hosta–fill it with a community of Midwestern native shade plants for beauty, interest, health of the soil, and attraction to insects.

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12 Responses to Spring Woodland Savanna Garden

  1. Trish Beckjord May 15, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

    Absolutely beautiful, Pat, and another perfect quote. Thanks for sharing another wonderful blog!

  2. Patty May 15, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    What a colorful alternative for a shady spot. Exceptionally beautiful photos.

  3. Monica Buckley May 16, 2014 at 7:18 am #

    Thanks for this post! I dream of the day when city and suburban parkways overflow with our region’s woodland and savanna flora, with early pollinators reveling among the spring blooms. Your photos and here provide needed encouragement. And I do love Sprengel’s Sedge, too.

  4. John Mullins May 16, 2014 at 8:21 am #

    How fitting. I’m going there next week. Thanks for the preview.

    • Pat Hill May 16, 2014 at 9:33 am #

      I wasn’t in Bloomington, but Normal is a dynamite city–30,000 college students do liven things up. Restaurants, bars, art galleries, busy streets—all surrounded by the flattest farmland I have ever seen and windmills.

  5. Suzanne Massion May 16, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    Although snow is falling on my Virginia Bluebells this morning and covering my Trillium Grandiflora, Shooting Stars, False Solomon Seal, anemone, and leafed out Bloodroot, I take inspiration, Pat, from your wonderful images, that winter’s return is temporary. You give us all hope that spring is really and truly here. An Indigo Bunting has sheltered under our overhang close to the foundation.

  6. Ginger Duncan May 16, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    Hi Pat! Your pictures are beautiful! Your own garden is looking green & lush, giving us all hope that Spring is here despite the chilly weather early morning snow flakes. Thank you for sharing! Ginger

  7. Meredith Schroeer May 19, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Thank you again so much, Pat, for your exciting presentation here in Normal last Monday evening. Am re-inspired!

    Am wondering how I can regularly receive your postings!


    • PatHill May 19, 2014 at 10:56 am #

      I put you on my list, Meridith. I try to write a piece every week, but sometimes there are more pressing things I have to do and I skip a week,

      Thank you for your input. I really, really enjoyed meeting everyone down there–your hospitality and enthusiasm was fantastic.

    • Larissa July 27, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

      I really co’udnlt ask for more from this article.

  8. Sharon Sutton June 27, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    For this rookie native gardener your photos and plant combinations are an inspiration. For some reason your postings have stopped coming to me. Please put me back on your list.

    • PatHill June 27, 2014 at 11:03 pm #

      I’ll do so right away, Sharon. computers seem to do things on their own.

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