NATURE TOUR: The spontaneous garden
Spontaneous garden of wild wetlands of native plants and vegetable varieties, May 24, 2021. Photo: Judy Isacoff
May 31 – June 13, 2021
MOUNT WASHINGTON – This spring, many biennial and perennial plants in and around my gardens are returning with exceptional vigor, so much so that they are creating new design features regardless of my effort. I attribute their success to the lasting snowpack they have enjoyed for the first time in many winters. Most beautiful of all, a landscape of wild wetlands spontaneously evolved bordering gardens and cultivated land.
In the stunning image of the wetland above, we find plants native to North America and the world that are self-pollinating. Native moss flowers (Tiarella cordifolia), sensitive ferns (Onoclea Sensitis) and common strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) grow with what is most likely (not positively identified) spotted leaves, pink to blue flowers of Bethlehem Lung of Bethlehem (Pulmonaria saccharata) of European origin.
From the start, when I tore up a lawn to create a polyculture environment to feed humans, insects and birds, I was determined to protect the surrounding wetlands and woodlands from the introduction of domestic plants. While I was busy cultivating the gardens which included two varieties of lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata and rubra) which were gifts to me, the lungwort jumped the fence and felt at home on the border of the wetland. I gave in to their presence there, convinced that they are not intrusive. Saccharata and rubra are the first plants to bloom in my garden, the first to provide hummingbirds with nectar.
Wetlands have traditionally been synonymous with worse than worthless land, the butt of jokes, marginal in location and value. The dominant attitude towards wetlands, at best, is to ignore them. Think about what change of perspective is required to see painter Henri Rousseau’s glorious jungle images in these flourishing nurseries.
When the lawn was thrown into the compost heap and a 2,500 square foot clearing of heavy clay soil was revealed – most likely backfill – I began the process of double digging the beds.
By mixing tons of local soil amendments including rotten cow manure and sand with clay, I produced fertile soil, one bed at a time. Enter pale or pink corydalis (Capnoides sempervirens), a native wild flower. New to me and not detected locally, the pink corydalis simply appeared and took up residence in the new garden plot. Biennale, its summer plants overwinter and flower in the second year, sowing generously. Before the arrival of the lungwort, the pink corydalis attracted the first hummingbirds.
As soon as the snow melted this year, many large capnoids appeared all over the garden. In the photo, the pink corydalis created a delicious and spontaneous design element in front of the perennial oriental blue (Amsonia tabernaemontana). The bluestar is native to the southern United States and Illinois. As Director of Education at Berkshire Botanical Garden in the 90s, I had the pleasure of working with planter Duke Douillet. On the day of a plant sale, Duke pointed out an Amsonia: “It’s a wonderful plant. Take that home! ”Blue lives in my backyard and Duke continues to garden at BBG.
I leave you with the most formal spontaneous arrangement yet to be discovered in my spring gardens. The spotted crane’s geranium is geranium maculatum L., Camas Camassia leichtlinii. Crimson clover is an excellent cover crop and lovage is a hardy and popular herb.