A Visit to Garden in the Woods during Trillium Week

If you are into native plants like me, Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA is a perfect place to visit, especially in spring when many wildflowers are in bloom. Garden in the Woods is a 45-acre woodland property owned and operated by the Native Plant Trust whose goal is to showcase and promote the beauty of plants native to New England. The purpose of my visit today was to observe in the wild the trillium, a plant that Garden in the Woods celebrates during the first week of May.

Trillium cuneatum, aka sweet Betsy, has a lovely citrus fragrance and it ended in my shopping cart at the end of our tour.

Yellow is my favorite color in the garden and this Trillium lutheum, which is also fragrant, has been on my wish list for a long time. Unfortunately it was not available for sale at Garden in the Woods.

There were a few varieties of white flowered trilliums in bloom and I went home with Trillium grandiflorum.

Some more trilliums.

In addition to trillium, there was a wide variety of other lovely wildflowers that were in bloom at this time of the year and that made our visit worthwhile. Uvularia grandiflora, or large-flowered bellwort, is a beautiful spring ephemeral that I added to my garden last year and that I was delighted to see growing in its natural habitat.

Virginia bluebells is another plant that I grow in my woodland garden but it has not flowered for me yet and I may have to move it to a sunnier spot. It is a lovely larger wildflower that makes an appearance in spring and then goes dormant the rest of the year.

Mayapples and celandine poppies were everywhere.

Pulsatilla vulgaris (Purple pasque flower anemone) is a rare native plant that I had never seen before. It must not naturalize as well as some of the other plants as we saw only one or two of these flowers at Garden in the Woods.

There were some swampy areas where one could observe wildlife as well as plants. The cute turtles on the logs were my son’s favorite.

One of the plants at the swampy area.

I love the purple and green foliage of these irises. They must be quite a sight to see when in bloom.

No woodlands would be complete without ferns. I think they are especially pretty in spring before their leaves unfurl.

Columbine cultivars are quite popular in the garden. This here is the straight species.

Rest places abound at Garden in the woods. I love the rock placed on this bench that reminds of a pillow on a bed.

In case you are wondering what the plant surrounding the bench is.

Another beautiful wildflower that blooms in May.

There is a fun area for the youngest visitors.

At the end of the trail, just before one goes back to the visitor center, butterfly murals remind visitors of the beauty of native flora and fauna.

Many of the native plants that are on display at the Garden in the Woods can also be purchased there. Here is what I added to my native plant collection today: prairie smoke, Trillium cuneatum and Trillium grandiflorum.

Using Mini Hostas in Containers

Even though hostas have been grown in the West since the end of the 18th century, interest in smaller varieties is relatively recent. In “The Book of Little Hostas”, Kathy and Michael Shadrack pinpoint the introduction of h. ‘Pandora’s Box’ in 1996 as the defining moment that kindled that interest (Shadrack and Shadrack, 2010, p. 13). Since then, smaller hostas have enjoyed increasing popularity and new varieties are being offered on the market each year.

The American Hosta Society (“AHS”) defines a miniature (“mini”) hosta as a hosta with a leaf blade area at maturity no greater than about 6 square inches (39 sq. cm.). The length of the petiole (leaf stem) is disregarded and there is no restriction on clump height and width (Pollock).

Mini hostas are not only cute but also extremely versatile, with uses ranging from garden borders to rock gardens to containers. In this post I would like to focus on mini hostas in containers, which is my favorite way to display them. I use them in combination with other hosta varieties or with foliage plants such as heucheras and ferns. I also like experimenting with various container shapes and colors and natural materials such as rocks and moss for additional interest.

H. ‘Teaspoon’ (top), h. ‘Tears of Joy’ (bottom left) and h. ‘Cracker Crumbs’ (bottom right)

The right container will highlight the uniqueness of mini hostas, including their color, shape and size. It will also bring them closer to the eye level where their beauty would be easier to appreciate. A shallow, wide flower pot is an excellent choice for an effective display of an assortment of minis. The yellow shiny leaves of h. ‘Cracker Crumbs’ in the container above contrasts beautifully with the green foliage of the other two plants; h. ‘Teaspoon’ provides some height and highlights the size of h. ‘Tears of Joy’, which is tiny even by mini hosta standards. For additional interest, I used owl statuettes, rocks collected from the beach and moss from my yard.

Clockwise starting from the top: H. ‘Mediovariegata’, h. “Golden Needles’, h. ‘Pure Heart’, heuchera cultivar

Another way to display miniature hostas in containers is in combination with larger hosta varieties and other foliage plants. The orange color of the heuchera in the container above contrasts beautifully with the green and white of the larger hosta ‘Mediovariegata’. Miniature hostas ‘Pure Heart’ and ‘Golden Needles’ and moss complete the look.

Hosta ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is not a miniature hosta by the standards of the American Hosta Society, but a small enough variety to be an excellent choice for container planting. Shown above are two ways to display it – solo in a pot of contrasting color or in combination with other shade-loving perennials, including heuchera, fern and ornamental grass.

Clockwise starting form the top of the first version of the container: the larger h. ‘Snake Eyes’, h. ‘Mini Skirt’, h. ‘Tears of Joy’, h. ‘Allan P. McConnel’, h. ‘Golden Needles’.

Shown above is a container arrangement with assorted hostas when first planted (left) compared to what it looked like a few weeks later after the plants grew (right). Notice the modifications to the arrangement. As the larger h. ‘Snake Eyes’ grew, I removed two of the four mini hostas from the container and replaced them with larger rocks. As you can see, your container does not have to stay the same throughout the season – do not be afraid to experiment and modify, if necessary.

Top of the pot: The taller hosta ‘Praying Hands’, is surround by h. ‘Blue Mouse Ears’. The side pockets are planted with h. ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ and ‘Lemon Lime’.

An interesting and uncommon way of displaying small and miniature hostas is in a strawberry pot. The container above was inspired by Carolyn Walker at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens whose blog I love and highly recommend. (You can see Carolyn’s strawberry pot here: https://carolynsshadegardens.com/2012/05/10/hosta-containers-and-companions/). It was my first attempt at displaying minis in containers and still one of my favorite.

I plant my pots each spring and dismantle them in the fall when I move the plants to the garden. This is the easiest way to overwinter hostas grown in container, although there are other methods such as storing your pots in an unheated garage or leaning them on their side in a protected area and covering them heavily with mulch until spring.

The small rock garden above was created using the plants from the strawberry pot with the addition of a few other minis, bleeding heart ‘King of Hearts’ and some rocks. You can see a comparison of this garden when first planted (left) versus a few years later when it was freshly redone (right).

I hope this post has given you some ideas and has convinced you that using mini hostas in containers is easy and fun.

Works Cited:

Pollock, Warren. “What’s a Mini Hosta? Upgrade, Critique & Where to Next?” The Online Hosta Journal, Vol. 41, Fall 2010, http://www.americanhostasociety.org/Publications/41/Contents.htm

Shadrack, Kathy Guest, and Michael Shadrack. The Book of Mini Hostas. Timber Press, Inc. 2010.

Best Perennials in My Shade Garden

(Gardening Zone 6b, Southeastern Massachusetts)

What a better way to start this blog than with an overview of some of the best perennials that I grow in my shade garden. These are all low maintenance, versatile plants with beautiful long-lasting blooms and foliage that provides multi-season interest. I plan on featuring each of these amazing perennials in future posts but wanted to give you a little sneak peek of what is to come.

Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’

Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ is the star of my spring garden.

Bold cobalt-blue flowers attract hummingbirds and bees and last over a month in my spring garden. Once the blooms fade, they are replaced by large silver-spotted foliage that stays attractive until late fall. I grow my pulmonarias in a very shady spot accompanied by rhododendrons, hydrangea, hellebores, hostas and heuchera. Pulmonarias are an amazing care-free shade perennial that is inexplicably underused in the garden.

Tiarella (Foam Flower)

Airy bottlebrush flowers in spring are far superior than those of its cousin, the heuchera. Remove the spent flowers to encourage reblooming. Heuchera’s lovely foliage combines well with hostas and other shade perennials and stays ornamental until late fall.

Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis)

I grow three different varieties of bleeding hearts and the old fashioned pink variety is by far my favorite. A classic staple in the garden, this plant provides a cheerful reminder that spring is here with its graceful arching stems, heart-shaped blooms and fresh scent.

Variegated Solomon’s Seal

Variegated Solomon’s Seal is one of the easiest to grow and most versatile plants in my garden. It combines beautifully with anything else, thanks to its delicate color and elegant shape. As a bonus, its variegated foliage turns golden in fall providing late season interest. Tough as nails and rarely bothered by pests and disease, this is a plant that no shade garden should do without.

Hellebore

Hellebore ‘Ice Breaker Pico’

If I had to choose a single plant to grow in my garden, it would be the hellebore. I love everything about it – its gorgeous long-lasting blooms, evergreen foliage and unusual bloom time in winter. Hellebores provide beauty and joy in the garden while most everything else sleeps.

Astilbe

Plume-like flowers in a variety of colors brighten up my shade garden in early summer. The spent blooms look great combined with hydrangeas in dry arrangements. The delicate fern-like foliage of astilbes contrasts beautifully with the bold leaves of hostas which makes them excellent companions.

Hosta

H. ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ (middle); counterclockwise from top left: H. ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, H. ‘Waterslide’, H. ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, H. ‘Autumn Frost’

It is not surprising that hostas are among the the most commonly planted perennials in the garden. There are thousands of varieties on the market and new ones are being introduced all the time. I grow about 50 varieties (which is by no means considered a large collection) and my favorite are the small and miniature hostas due to their beauty and versatility.

What is your experience with the perennials featured in this post? What other amazing shade plants would you add to the list?