Garden Spot: Take a walk in the woods for inspiration

CorrespondentNovember 23, 2012 

  • More from Salter • Don’t put invasive plants in your garden if you live next to a natural area. • Brown pine needles don’t mean the tree is dying. Pines lose some needles every couple of years to make room for new ones. • Take away ideas from the greenway, but don’t remove the plants. If you see something you like, check your local nursery. • If you lose a tree, consider using the trunk in your green space. Half-bury it to make it look natural. Want more ideas? Salter recommends “The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest” by Rick Darke.

Scarlet, orange, yellow and brown leaves sway in a slight breeze. Dappled sunlight dances on tree trunks. Scampering squirrels crunch-crunch the carpet of leaves on a November morning. I’m walking along Abbotts Creek Trail, part of Raleigh’s Capital Area Greenway. The greenway is a good place to get some exercise and enjoy nature’s sights and sounds. My walking companion, Melissa Salter, the city’s land stewardship coordinator, says it’s also a great place to get ideas for your own green space.

As we walked the trail, we noticed:

The layers: The forest has four layers, which you can mimic in your garden. Understory flowers (ferns, grasses) tolerate shade. Shrubs and understory trees (dogwood, redbud) grow in the shade of larger trees. The canopy layer (oak, maples, sweetgums) consists of the largest, tallest trees. Vines, climbing and twisting around tree trunks, cross all the layers. Consider incorporating understory trees and grasses in your garden.

Colors: The color wheel is well represented along Abbotts Creek Trail. Winged sumac and Virginia creeper were bold in their red. The sweetgum sported foliage in pinks, purples, reds and yellows. The beech’s leaves ranged from yellow to brown to orange; its dead leaves hang on through the winter and fall off when new leaves appear in the spring. The most colorful leaves are on the edges of the trail, which get the most sun.

Lines: Look to trees of various shapes and sizes to lead your eyes to different parts of the woodland. A tall oak tree leads the eyes up, and its outstretched branches lead across to other parts of the forest – or your own space. The branches of understory trees usually stretch out horizontally as they seek sunlight, according to “The American Woodland Garden” by Rick Darke.

Light and shadow: As the sun moves across the forest, watch for leaves to cast shadows on tree trunks. If there’s a breeze, the movement of the shadows can add to the visual interest. Light also plays up the texture of tree trunks.

Movement: In addition to the shadows, watch the way the leaves move. Leaf and flower structure affects plant movement. The tulip poplar has a long petiole, or stem, that allows the leaf to sway daintily in a slight breeze.

Sounds: Sounds are a big part of the fall landscape, Salter says. Leaves rustle as they float to the ground and crunch as squirrels scamper over. At home, consider allowing leaves to stay on the ground for a while so you can enjoy the colors and maybe even jump into a big pile of them. Salter enjoys the leafy “carpet all over the yard. It’s beautiful and full of color.”

The next time you take a walk, take notice. Who knows what ideas you’ll be able to transplant?


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