A shady, moist plant community…
Looking out the window on this cold, grey afternoon I see gardens covered in snow and plants sticking up here and there through the white blanket. This 1/4 acre garden (referred to as the ‘demonstration garden’) is quiet now, but most of the year it is a flurry of bird, insect and small mammal activity.
At the north side of the garden under a large Ponderosa Pine is an old tree stump about 3 feet tall. We planted it. Yup, we really did. We hauled in and planted at least a dozen stumps near our house ranging from 2 to 10 feet tall to create habitat for chipmunks, squirrels and woodpeckers.
But I digress…
On top of the stump is a bird bath that in reality is simply a 20” plant saucer with a rock in the middle – not very fancy – but the birds and Pine Squirrels are frequent visitors. The Ponderosa is close to the stump so the birds can descend slowly from branch to branch and feel safe as they approach the birdbath.
Red-breasted Nuthatches that nest in a birdhouse on the south side of the garden visit the birdbath repeatedly throughout the day, especially while they are feeding their young. Robins use it at dusk just before they start singing their night songs – although they bathe just as often as get a drink. Evening Grosbeaks come in flocks to get long drinks during hot summer days.
The stump is covered with a tangle of White Virgin’s Bower and Orange Honeysuckle vines that have reached over to the trunk of the Pine and grabbed hold of the craggy bark. The vines provide cover for small birds as they come to the birdbath, especially for the ground loving birds like the Juncos. The tree frogs sometimes hide among the vines that drape on the ground.
Just above the bird bath is a hummingbird feeder that the Calliope’s fight over all season. It is hung from a dead branch of the pine. The birds sit in the branches before swooping down for a long drink and then zipping to the Yellow Columbine for a sip of nectar.
All around the stump is one of our favorite native plant communities – a shady, moist plant community.
There are five ‘communities’ within the garden that reflect those found in Montana:
- desert – hot, dry and rocky
- meadow – grassland with wildflowers
- shrub land – and their accompanying understory
- open, dry woodland – partial shade
- shady, moist woodland – with lots of humus
The shady, moist area is a manufactured habitat that would not survive without regular irrigation in our hot, dry Montana climate. It may seem a bit pointless to create artificial environments, but the goal of this garden is to provide our customers with an opportunity to see 200 species of plants in their mature state and to provide an example of how to combine plants into communities based on habitats.
The shady, moist area uses the pine tree and a number of shrubs: Serviceberry, Twinberry Honeysuckle, Wax Currant and Mockorange to create cool shade for smaller plants. Wood Strawberries, Early Blue Violets and Lady Slippers are nestled beneath the shrubs. The shrubs attract a host of native insects including a number of solitary bees, some so small they are hard to see.
Near the shrubs is a large colony of Shooting Stars that blooms early in the spring followed by bright pink Lewis’ Monkeyflower in midsummer. Sprengel’s Sedge, Richardson’s Alumroot and a Baldhip Rose with it’s diminutive pink flowers frame the colony. We sometimes see the pair of Long-toed Salamanders that live in this colony, especially among the Monkeyflower.
A narrow path of flat rocks runs through the shady, moist area. Along it’s edge, Short-styled Onion pokes it’s fuchsia heads through white Canada Violets and purple Self-Heal. Lyall’s Angelica and a 5-foot tall Mountain Hollyhock provide cover for Rattlesnake Plantain, Franklin’s Phacelia and several fern species. A Pioneer Violet peeks out from under a Thimbleberry plant that I’ve put in a pot to keep it from taking over the garden. Prairie Smoke nestles around a Russet Buffaloberry that finally produced a crop of berries this year.
A huge Blue Elderberry plant is situated over on the edge of the wet area where it takes advantage of irrigation but gets more sun than many of the shady plants. It has grown from a seedling to over 9 feet tall in just 3 years and is producing large clusters of blue berries tinged with white. This year the Evening Grosbeaks flocked in to feed on the berries before we figured out what they were eating. So much for our annual batch of Elderberry jelly. We’ll plant more next year so we can share.
Sweetgrass grows beneath the Elderberry giving off it’s sweet vanilla scent on hot sunny days. I’ve got a braid of Sweetgrass in my car – I love its earthy aroma – especially on hot, sunny days.
A draping Rose Spiraea, also known as ‘Steeplebush’ and a colony of white Pearly Everlasting have come up through the Sweetgrass. We’ve found toads and a couple of small Western Garter Snakes in the grass.
This plant community loves shade, moisture and rich soil. This area is not a tidy space. As one plant finishes blooming another pops up to take its place and any vacant spot is quickly filled. Maybe that’s why we don’t have issues with weeds. Seedlings keep the clumps of plants moving around and the whole area seems to evolve from year to year. It’s an area of the garden that is cool, peaceful and inviting.
© 2013, Kathy Settevendemie. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us