Groundcovers and understory shrub layers are an essential core of a woodland garden. The canopy layers in a woodland forest are a mixed package of different species that have survived weather adversities, dormancy and many other natural events to create a sustainable habitat. The most resilient and aggressive species thrive, and the least aggressive ones struggle to survive. Well, in a planned woodland garden, if you don't plant species that can complement each other and create a harmonious habitat, more often the ornamental species will struggle to survive, and the aggressive weeds will take over.
The woodland gardens at London Town are interspersed with many habitat pockets that are thriving in their own microclimate. One of the primary collections and the backbone layers of the gardens are the Azaleas and Rhododendrons. These beautiful evergreen shrubs form a prefect canopy layer under the tall Tulip Trees, Magnolias, Oaks, Pines and Dogwood Trees. The evergreen varieties of Azaleas also give an excellent backdrop to lower layers of ferns and other ground covers.
Very recently, London Town was approached by the Potomac Valley Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, with a request to add a memorial bench for the well-known Azaleas propagator, Gray Carter. Gray was a renowned propagator who donated ample of his successful species to many chapters, and London Town gardens are honored to have a bench in his memory in the core areas of our Azaleas and Rhododendrons.
But what makes this even more special is the partnership that we have developed with the Potomac Valley Chapter members that have donated over 45 Azaleas and Rhododendrons and are willing to help us with many more! The woodland garden restoration work at London Town involves invasive removal, adding ground covers and re-establishing core collections that have faded over the time. The new Azaleas and Rhododendrons are going to add mauves, lavender, frills of pink and white swirls, fragrant yellows, and stunning reds to the existing pastel colors in the Azalea glade. The Potomac Valley Chapter is graciously helping us redesign a lost vision of a layered and aesthetic sustainable woodland garden, we couldn't be more thankful!
Aesthetic appeal is an essential design component of any landscape design. But to create a sustainable landscape, the habitats have to have the right companions that complement each other instead of competing with each other for light, space and nutrients. A couple of other examples of complementing companions for a woodland garden include Mahonias-Camellias-Azaleas planted together, all evergreen and different in height and habit. If you want intense texture, try mixing spiky Mahonia leaves with soft frills of Corydalis leaves or angled Epimedium leaves with wind flowers.
Companions sharing the likeness for the same habitat will intertwine smoothly and create their own spaces while thriving to survive together in a unified healthy understory. When habitats match, the plants will seem like peas in a pod!