Hello fellow readers, I have the privilege to work with Stephanie of Denville, NJ, who moved from the west coast. She bought a cute cottage in a lake community overlooking a magnificent forest. The steepness of the slope is a dilemma for those like Stephanie who wish to ponder amongst the trees. That’s where a steep woodland garden comes in.
A hardscape solution for a steep hillside
Thanks to a brave installer, Robert of Sierra Landscape Management, we built a flight of meandering garden steps and walls using boulders from the woods. I’m glad I missed the first dramatic day when his machine slid precariously down the cliff, causing a photo moment for neighbors who watched from above. We uncovered fifty years of debris from previous owners’ house renovations, plus old bicycles and tires. One of Robert’s workers found a Snoopy pencil dated my year of birth. I didn’t fess up (smile).
Ideal plants for a steep woodland garden
Robert dug in the woodland shrubs, including Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) and Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). Then Stephanie and I planted the perennials on Labor Day while her folks were visiting from Oregon. Stephanie climbed the cliff of clethra to dig in the Wild Ginger (Asarum). I “answered back,” the vignette of ginger, planted in the safe zone to the left of the shed. The Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) will grow 3-5 feet along the garden edges and below the spruces by the neighbor to help screen the wheels of their RV.
Around the gravel patio, we dug in the largest species of Hellebores (Helleborus argutifolius) with evergreen holly-like leaves that will bloom pale yellowish-green in late winter. Alongside the Hellebores, we planted Marginal Shield Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) with blue-green fronds. A favorite fern in the lineup is ‘Lady in Red’ Lady Fern (Athyrium angustum forma rubellum) with burgundy red stems. Then there’s the native Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemummuticum) which grows two to three feet with bluish-green leaves that thrives in extreme conditions, including slopes in the sun or shade. It’s a pollinator magnet and tolerates drought. To create a foot-tall carpet of violet-blue spring blooms, we planted Woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata’ Blue Moon’) that hummingbirds and butterflies will love.
Goat gardening, I call it.
“Goat gardening,” I call it – planting the steep slope of Stephanie’s woodland garden leading down to the lower echelons of wilderness. I loved most witnessing her mom, Cec, guiding her from above, pointing to what goes where while passing the plants to Stephanie.
“We’ve got a system going.” And they did, Cec rolling the pots of choice on their sides to her daughter downhill. Her dad Phil is ready to intervene should anyone topple. “We’ve been gardening together for years.”
The scene reminded me of my dear momma and our gardening days together. It just goes to show digging in the dirt is hereditary. Garden dilemmas? Askmarystone@gmail.com and your favorite Podcast App.
You’ll enjoy the story about Stephanie’s Front Lawn Alternative
Column updated 8/7/22
Always a pleasure. I would say the slide more controlled than the stories suggest.
I’m sure it was Robert. You always manage such things well. Still glad I missed the moment as I would have panicked!
This is beautiful..There is nothing better than a well landscaped and loved garden. It looks serene and so nice to supply Bees and Butterflies and birds with such a lovely area to live in.
Hello Suzi, I appreicate your comment when this column was posted. Stephanie is one of my favorite clients. What a gardener! Meeting her folks on installation day a special treat. I’d love you to follow my weekly column by signing up to receive an email alert of each new post (one a week). The sign up (and I never share emails) is on the bottom of the home page https://askmarystone.com/
Thanks so much! Mary
Shade gardening is my very favorite form of gardening, and I love the plants that you have planted in and around the gardens. Especially, Phlox divaricata. You might also find some variegated Solomon’s Seal too. Congratulations Steph, on your wonderful garden of Eden, and quiet place. There is nothing better. I have known Steph, since she was a schoolgirl, in England, and friend and classmate of my daughter’s. Her mom and dad, are friends and wonderful people. Thanks Cec, for sending this link. It is great.
Hello Joanne, Thanks for reading the column. Stephanie is one of my favorite clients. Meeting her folks on installation day a special treat! Love your idea of variegated Solomon Seal. Sadly, deer often like Polygonatum too.
You sound like a great gardener! I’d love you to follow my weekly column by signing up to receive email alerts of each new post (one a week). The sign up (and I never share emails) is on the bottom of the home page https://askmarystone.com/ Thanks so much! Mary