I made it more difficult by building this garden around and under a red maple. It was easy at first --- the maple was small and I filled the area with shrubs and perennials and bulbs. A doublefile viburnum anchors the left (west) end of the garden and a dwarf globe blue spruce holds the east end on the right. A lot of stuff went in between and around the tree, including a large river birch behind it on the right.
But five years later I can't work with the maple's roots, and as it grows the garden gets shadier and darker and more impossible for the plants underneath, most of which were sun lovers when I started. Why were these problems not obvious to me when I planted this area? A mixed border under a massive maple tree?
In the densest drier shade directly under the maple I have a nice stand of barrenwort (Epimedium) going.
I'm making progress on getting the right plants in there.
But I still haven't solved the identity issue or determined how this garden should mark the end of the yard or the beginning of the meadow.
I'm finding small plants look dwarfed by the meadow and too clumpy. Large plants with small leaves (a spirea is in there, and winterberry hollies) look messy with the weeds behind them. Flowery things look way too fussy and out of place.
Strong, bold foliage might work with the chaos of the meadow and the size of the maple, but I haven't figured out which ones. I think I need only a few big leaved shrubs, not the jumble of mixed plantings that I started with.
Somehow I thought that grasses would help, but this didn't work out at all.
I wove a short curving line of 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis acutiflora) between the maple and the right edge of the garden. They were supposed to hide the decaying foliage of the camassias, which you can see flopped in front of the grasses. That didn't work out very well.
Every garden and gas station planting and mall parking lot has 'Karl Foerster' grasses, usually in forlorn single clumps, but the noticeable feature is how modest and tidy and neat they are. They are low, small plants, especially compared to some of the really large ornamental grasses.
Mine are not. They are big and tall in this garden under the maple tree. They add a thin greenery that doesn't help things. They are completely hiding the turtlehead and other plants behind them. And it is probably too shady for them.
A do over is in order. Any ideas for a garden under a maple tree?