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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The lacy divided foliage of Early Meadowrue (Thalictrum dioicum) adds a delicate note to the composition.
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.
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.
Ferns need to be part of this pakage, as well, to hide the fading foliage of the Bluebells after they finish blooming.
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.