Visit beautiful Keppel Croft Gardens in Grey County, Ontario.
In the early 1950s, a gravel pit was opened on the north and west sides of our house. The gravel was used in the construction of what was Highway #26 and now Island View Drive. When we arrived in 1977 these areas were practically without soil.
We found a few small self-sown cedars, green ashes and willows. Various grasses and weeds struggled on the perimeter of the three metre deep pit. The whole area was swampy, and under water in spring and late autumn. Drainage from the area was slow and water lay in puddles into mid-summer. It didn't look like a promising garden location.
Bill moved dozens of wheelbarrow loads of topsoil down into the gravel pit. The soil was used to build up our planting beds. The paths have a layer of sawdust as the walking surface. In places rocks line the sides of the path. Bill placed some large flat stepping stones in a portion of this path and constructed a couple of little bridges as well.
The Woodland Garden is a special place in spring. This sheltered area has lots of tiny delights with snowdrops starting the season. Among a wide selection of woodland plants we have trilliums, sweet woodruff, bloodroot, wood anemonies, and narcissus of various kinds. Lily of the Valley is making itself very evident and needs some trimming. This spring we have been adding to our selection of primulas. The lathris and Spanish bluebells bloom in mid spring. Later in the season the Japanese irises and astilbe provide colour.
The Woodland Garden offers us a chance to enjoy a variety of woodland plants. One plant that draws a lot of comment is the Petasites japonicus, a perennial plant native to China, Japan and Korea. In Japan it is enjoyed as a spring vegetable. It is also called giant butterburr, sweet Coltsfoot, fuki, or bog rhubarb. It's common name, butterburr, comes from a previous custom of wrapping butter in the leaves in hot weather. It does well in damp places. The large leaves make great forms for creating concrete garden stepping stones. Be warned: it is a quite invasive plant.
In early spring the flowers appear looking like miniature green posies. The flowers are fragrant, yellowish-white, and appear in dense corymbs. Very large, rounded leaves develop throughout the spring and reach a considerable size by early summer.
Unfortunately the woodland area suffers from a lack of moisture by mid to late summer and the leaves wilt and flop down to the ground. A heavy rain restores the plants. We haven't been able to solve this lack of moisture problem yet but the Petasites continues to reappear each year giving us another opportunity to come up with a solution. We have planted some petasites on the banks of a garden pond where it is flourising in a moister location.
An interesting woodland plant is the Jack-in-the-Pulpit. The Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema Triphyllum) grows from a corm. The plants are native to Eastern North America, and prefer moist, shady locations. The spathe forms the pulpit, and contains a spadix, known as the Jack. Tiny flowers cover the spadix. The ripe, bright red and shiny berries produce 1-5 seeds each. The seedlings take up three or more years to produce flowers. The flowers are pollinated by flies. A gardener with patience will enjoy propagating these woodland plants!
The gardens at Keppel Croft have a number of special Carolinian trees. We have the Kentucky Coffee Tree, the Tulip Tree, and the Black Walnut. In a sheltered part of the woodland garden we enjoy the Eastern Redbud or Cercis canadensis. One of these trees had a disastrous winter with freezing rain and ice causing the branches to split away from the trunk. Some judicious support from bungie cords and strips of nylon stockings helped save the tree. In mid May we are rewarded with a shower of magenta pink blossoms along the branches and twigs. The leaves emerge later. The interesting thing about the blossoms is that only long-tongued bees can pollinate them!
We planted Hellebores in the Woodland Garden when we first started the garden. This year we have planted several more plants with various coloured blossoms. We will be looking for them in spring next year to see what they will add to the garden! Our old favourite has been growing in the garden for many years, and never disappoints us. Unlike some of our gardening friends, we haven't had a lot of success with natural propagation, but we keep on hoping!
Although Spring is a very special time in the woodland garden, the Fall is another great season for this garden. For years we lost the battle with the rabbits over the Japanese Maples. A concerted effort to protect the maples during the winter has been most rewarding. There are now several Japanese maples colouring up beautifully for the autumn.
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Site Revisions made - May 2010