#BotanistLens: Understory veneers of a woodland garden.
Woodland gardens key features includes, shade, shade and more shade! Deep shade, dappled shade, light sun windows, all of it offer ample choices for a variety of understory plants to grow.
London Town Gardens have rich layered varieties of understory plants including: Dogwoods, Viburnums, Calycanthus, Maples, Rhododendrons and even Illiciums (Star Anise). Now most of these have an attractive flower, if not at least decent looking fruit, or sometimes unique foliage. When guests are choosing plants, I get these questions often, what does the flower look like? Well, if the flower is insignificant, then the next question is- what does the fruit look like? will the plant work well as a screen? Will it need too much water?
When getting plants for ones landscape it is natural to think of what purpose does it solve, does it offer good flowers, fruits, foliage, water/weed issues are covered? But what goes unnoticed is what habitat will the plant suite and complete. Understory plants are a group of plants that are unfortunately often undermined. The top canopy layers like the tall trees are well known, then come the ground covers (no one likes the weeds), then comes the pretty inflorescence 'I want to add color', but what gets overlooked are the layers in between. But guess what? minimalist care is what most shade understory plants need. They are covered by a canopy of tall, gigantic trees, their base usually has one ground cover or the other (maybe invasive?), they get their nutrients from leaf litter of the deciduous trees, ample filtered shade and that's all they need.
Some of the most beautiful and botanically unique plant specimens found in the woodland gardens of London Town come from the Magnoliids group. The Magnoliids are group of flowering plants that includes the order of Laurels and Magnoliales, which includes the families: Magnoliaceae (Magnolias); Calycanthaceae (Calycanthus); Illiciaceae (Illiciums) and Lauraceae (Sassafras).
Now Magnolias, Illicums and Calycanthus have pretty flowers, but the flowers weren't the key feature when it came to evolution. If you look closley none of these flowers have petals, they have perianths (fused calyx and corolla)."The Magnoliales and Laurales constitute one of the two sister clades in the Magnoliidae, which are commonly regarded as the most “primitive” angiosperms in older classifications." (https://www.sciencedirect.com/.../agricultural.../laurales ). "The living members of the Magnoliales and Laurales are groups that have small to medium-sized trees with long leaves and large flowers with perianth parts. The earliest angiosperms were understory trees and shrubs, and that the flower was NOT the key innovation for the rapid diversification of angiosperms."(https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/anthophyta/anthophytafr.html).
Understory trees and shrubs make a woodland complete and cohesive. When planting in a woodland landscape or even walking through and appreciating the foliage of shrubs and small trees in a woodland garden, notice the layers they cohabit and notice the key role they play in completing the mosaic of a woodland habitat. As crucial as large trees are for shade, so is the understory layer.