July 1, 2013

Let Nature Happen

This was a garden oops.

For years I tried to grow Cornus canadensis, or bunchberry. It is a pretty groundcover that is a type of dogwood, and looks like a dogwood tree but in miniature. It has leaves that look like a flowering dogwood, and tiny white flowers that resemble it too, as it grows along the forest floor.

But it is tricky. While it grows in huge natural swaths in the wild, it is fussy about acidity and shade and it needs the rich decomposing duff of a woodland floor. I couldn't grow it. Most of my plants turned purple from stress and crisped into tiny wooden skeletons. I planted more and they died.

I moved them to a shadier spot. I added acid fertilizer. I added elemental sulphur to further acidify the soil.

I stuck twigs from pruned shrubs into the soil around the plants, to mimic the rotting woody conditions they like (I read about doing that, I didn't make it up.) But that was an oops when the bunchberry still died and the twig prunings sprouted and began to grow into the spireas and azaleas they came from.

So I gave up two years ago. The struggling patch under a maple tree was forgotten, I put a ton of mulch over the dead bodies of the little plants and buried them. Gone. I didn't even have to look at their dessicated skeletons any more.

Two years after completely burying the plants, I have a patch of bunchberry.


And now it is blooming. And spreading. I see little bunchberry leaves coming up a few feet away.


The mistake here was treating these plants like fussy specimens. All they wanted was to live the way they live in the forest -- completely covered every year by fallen material, and left alone.

Sometimes we garden too intensively. We read about what plants must have, then intervene and add amendments and try to force conditions for them when only patience and nature's own process are needed.

A Garden oops. Or as Joene calls them, GOOPs. You can read more on her blog on the first of every month.

  

30 comments:

  1. This is one of those lessons we have all learned. Unfortunately I have learned it over and over. Like my friend tells me from time to time, "You are too nice to your plants", when she has something growing prolifically and I can't get it started. I have never seen this bunch berry for sale any place around here. I have only seen it in the wild. It is a pretty plant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa, I think I am too nice to my plants too. Ignore them and they do better sometimes. Bunchberry isn't sold very commonly here, but i do find it every year in a couple local nurseries.

      Delete
  2. This is a great story, Laurrie! You're so right that sometimes it's best to let nature take its course. I like plants that don't need my attention:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rose, ignoring a plant just doesn't seem like gardening at all! But it works.

      Delete
  3. Well, it took two years but the bunchberry was able to teach you what they needed ... a pile of mulch so their roots could take hold.
    Some of my favorite garden combinations have come from letting nature do her thing. She is quite a designer and she knows her plants.

    Thanks, as always, for playing in the GOOPs garden bed on the first of each month.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joene, Nature does know her plants and what they need, way better than a gardener does!

      Delete
  4. So the two morals to the story are 1) some things do much better if you ignore them and 2) there aren't many problems that can't be solved by dumping a bunch of mulch on top of it. These are two of my fundamental gardening principles! I was actually thinking of planting some bunchberry as well (I like the mini-dogwood flowers) but I heard from some folks that it was hard to tame/borderline invasive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. El Gaucho, I'm with you -- I am starting to think of all the other problems in my life that I might solve with a pile of mulch dumped on them.

      And congratulations to you and your new wife, the pictures of your wedding were lovely (magical).

      Delete
  5. I love your GOOPs. I've been really interested in this plant, so I'm storing this away in my mental filing cabinet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heather, I bet you will have great success with it if you do end up planting some bunchberry. Go for it!

      Delete
  6. Hilarious :)

    There are definitely a few plants that I thought I'd killed, gave up on in frustration, only to have them spring to life once I started ignoring them. Liatris comes to mind...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aaron, I think everybody has one of these stories, but each involves a different plant. Ignore it and it will grow. . . it happens to all of us.

      Delete
  7. Laurrie, we have not this plant here. I think it's enough invasive. This is an important lesson, you're right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nadezda, bunchberry does very well farther north, in Maine, and it would probably do well in your latitude too. I'm surprised it isn't known there.

      Delete
  8. Oops or goops, it turned out very well and offered a lesson for all of us too! Thanks for sharing! Perhaps that is what I did wrong with my dogwoods?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shirley, ha! I don't think you could bury a flowering dogwood tree in enough mulch -- although I have heard that threatening to cut one down makes it flower more beautifully. Whether it is a big dogwood being threatened or these little bunchberry dogwoods being buried, I guess they like tough love.

      Delete
  9. I think your biggest mistake here was in spin. You should be trumpeting the brilliant new method you discovered that guarantees success with C. canadensis!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jason, you're right! It's all in how you tell the story -- I should be exclaiming how well I took care of it and how smart I was to figure out how to grow it!

      Delete
  10. Oh I love this plant! I tried it 2 years in a row under a small tree and it did not make it. I thought the voles may have gotten it. Maybe I will try once more and bring home the few we have at work. The tree is now bigger and I never pick up the leaves--and I will now toss more on top of them! I have new hope!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diane, I really buried the bunchberries deeply -- not just a good layer of leaves or mulch, but I put them under maybe 8 inches, just to get rid of seeing them, and kept them covered for two years. They had been struggling for about four years before that, so this has been a long process. Good luck trying once more -- it may take years for you too!

      Delete
  11. This is waaaayyyy to perfect of a post! Isn't that just the truth!!! We do tend to fuss and fret and sometimes the best thing for the garden is to just back off a bit! Ha! Love it and wow do I ever just love this plant!!! I have never seen them before...simply stunning indeed!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nicole, I need a little sign to put in my garden that says "Back Off", that's for sure! You should see how pretty this plant is up in Maine where it naturalizes and covers lots and lots of ground, spreading all over. Very lovely.

      Delete
  12. Like some of the others who commented, I don't see this as an Oops, I see this as a Lesson Learned, or something. I love plants that take care of themselves. The only problem is figuring out how to identify them, before we kill them with kindness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah, this was definitely a lesson for me. Mostly about patience and letting things be, rather than fussing and worrying -- and doesn't that apply to lots of life situations!

      Delete
  13. What a fine teaching-post. It's difficult for some gardeners to let nature do what it does better than we can do. Whether it's designing or cultivating. And what a fine plant to illustrate the point. I *need* that plant in my becoming-woodland garden. I'm on the hunt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lee, unfortunately it won't grow for you that far south. It needs not just acidic soil, but cool temps, and that's why it does so well in the wilds of Maine. It grows okay only down to Virginia, and that's at higher elevations. I think one of my problems establishing my patch of bunchberry over the years has been our warm summers, which it really struggles with.

      Delete
  14. It is funny what a plant can teach us. Good lesson for us all.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Sometimes we love our gardens too death. I am quite guilty of that! I wish bunchberry grew here. We're too warm. I'm glad it came back for you. It's a bit funny - but only in retrospect - when a plant plays dead and pops back to life later, very Lazarus-like.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tammy, this one really came back like Lazarus : ) It was about as gone as it could be for two years.

      Delete

Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.