The Woodland Garden in Progress
Native plants are currently in vogue and planting them is politically correct. As I am planning my woodland garden, I keep trying define what is a native plant? In my mind, that classification is contingent on both distance and time. What is native plant for a woodland garden in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire? How many miles away from my garden does the plant need to be found in nature in order to be considered a native in my garden? Fifty miles? Five hundred miles? Is it defined by growing in North America? How recently must that plant have grown in my region in order to be considered native? One hundred years ago ? One thousand years ago? One hundred thousand years ago?
Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy' is lovely native American shrub that is an excellent edge-of-the-woodland plant. Michael Dirr selected it at the Mt. Airy Arboretum in Cincinnati for it vigorous habit, fragrant white flowers in late April and outstanding claret fall foliage. Dirr believes it may be a cross of Fothergilla major and Fothergilla gardenii. Fothergilla. major, although hardy to Zone 4, is native to the Allegheny Mountains from northern North Carolina and Tennessee to northern Alabama. Yes, it is a native American plant, but what business does it have being grown in a New Hampshire garden claiming to contain only native plants? Native to where?
A plant that I currently have in my garden is Acer pectinatum ssp. forrestii, a rare Asian snake bark maple with handsome butter-yellow fall foliage and white-striped bark and the smaller branches which become a dark red color in winter. I chose it because it is proported to be more tolerant to difficult growing conditions than the other striped bark maples. Even the most educated snake bark connoisseur would be hard pressed to distinguish it from Acer pensylvanicum, the so-called moosewood maple, another striped bark maple which thrives in the moist shady woodlands throughout the Monadnock Region in New Hampshire. Acer pensylvanicum is closely related to Acer pectinatum ssp. forrestii, yet the live on seperate continents.
Millions of years ago, before plate tectonics moved the continents apart as they are now, the northern latitudes of Europe, Asia, and North America shared numerous plant and animal species. Genetically, Acer pectinatum ssp. forrestii and Acer pensylvanicum are nearly an identical plant. If one looked at plants from that perspective, perhaps Acer pectinatum ssp. forrestii could be considered a native in my garden.
Calling my developing woodland garden the Wild Garden doesn't really fit what I am trying to accomplish there. The Pangaea Woodland is a better way to describe my intention. I am going to take a cue from Chanticleer's Asian Woods by attempting to emulate an American woodland garden but not limiting myself to plants native to New Hampshire or even North America. The garden must feel naturalistic. The stone steps will feel like a hike in the White Mountains and I am going restrain myself from planting anything with too much variegation or oddly colored foliage. There will be no invasive species from any continent. It will be a New Hampshire woodland garden that have plants that feel right in New Hampshire.
Yes, I wil create a Pangaea Woodland.