The best plants for a woodland garden

The top species that will thrive in woodlands

By Lorraine JohnsonLorraine Johnson

Woodland garden

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For Rich loam

• trout lily (Erythronium americanum): 15 cm, nodding, bell-shaped yellow flowers in spring, mottled leaves

• white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum): 30–45 cm, white bloom in spring, red berries in late summer

• mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum): 30–45 cm, single white flower in late spring, creates dense colonies

• foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia): 15–30 cm, spike of white flowers in spring, great groundcover

• wild ginger (Asarum canadense): 15 cm, maroon flower in spring, heart-shaped leaves, great groundcover

• bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis): 15–30 cm, small white flowers in early spring, saucer-like leaves

• Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides): 30–75 cm, evergreen, leaf frond deeply cut

For Dry Shade (also grows in rich loam)

• false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa): 30–90 cm, showy clusters of creamy-white flowers in late spring, red berries in late summer

• sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba): 15 cm, pink, lavender, or white flowers in spring, prefers alkaline soil

• Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense): 15 cm, small white flowers in late spring/early summer, red berries, prefers acidic soil

• red baneberry (Actaea rubra): 30–60 cm, large clusters of white flowers in spring, red berries in late summer

• barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides): 8–20 cm, yellow flowers in late spring/early summer, glossy leaves

• bunchberry (Cornus canadensis): 8–18 cm, white blossom in early to mid-summer, whorled leaves, scarlet berries, prefers acidic soil

• bottlebrush grass (Hystrix patula): 120–150 cm, gorgeous bristly seedheads in bottlebrush shape, spreads well

For Part Sun/Part Shade

• hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus): 30–90 cm, pinkish-white flowers in early summer

• common strawberry (Fragaria virginiana): 8–15 cm, white flowers in early summer, small tasty fruit

• eastern columbine (Aquilegia canadensis): 20–70 cm, showy, scarlet nodding flowers in spring/early summer, attracts hummingbirds

• heart-leaved aster (Aster cordifolius): 30–120 cm, dense clusters of whitish-blue flowers in late summer through fall, large leaves

• sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis): 60–90 cm, glowing green fronds, scalloped edges, prefers moisture

• New York fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis): 30–60 cm, rich green fronds, tapering tips

• Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis): 100-150 cm, graceful grass, dense seed plumes turn golden in mid- to late summer

Shrubs for Part Shade/Part Sun

• alternate-leaved dogwood (Cornus alternifolia): 6 metres, large shrub/small tree, numerous white flower clusters in early summer, blue-black berries in mid-summer, horizontal, tiered branches

• smooth serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis): 5–10 metres, hanging clusters of white flowers in late spring, reddish-purple berries in fall

• elderberry (Sambucus canadensis): 3 metres, clusters of fragrant white flowers in summer, edible purple-black berries in late summer, prefers moist soil

• red-osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera): 1–3 metres, creamy white flowers in early to mid-summer, blue berries in late summer, thicket-forming, red twigs, prefers moist soil

• nannyberry (Viburnum lentago): 10 metres, fragrant white flowers in late spring, edible blue-black berries in late summer

For photos of these and other plants, refer to these websites:

Ontario Wildflowers

North American Native Plant Society


This article was originally published on May 14, 2003

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