BY MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM / Cincinnati, Ohio, USDA Zone 6
European ginger (Asarum europaeum; shown right with Narcissus ‘Hawera’) is an attractive, well-behaved groundcover for a woodland garden. It will self-sow very modestly, but you can help by harvesting the seed capsules when they ripen in May. You will find them under the leaves, looking like little brown jugs, Crack a capsule into its three sections, each of which hold a few brown seeds, and poke the sections into the ground wherever you want new plants to grow. Germination can take two years. Sources, page 70.
In Lob’s Wood
In 1899, a young man named Carl Krippendorf acquired 175 acres of virgin beech-wood near Cincinnati. The son of the founder of Krippendorf & Dittman Shoes, he spent the next 60 years making the spectacular woodland garden he called I.ob’s, Wood. His idea I was both simple and grand. Starting with a love for the land, he sought to enhance the natural beauty of the woods while preserving its character. He did this by planting bold sweeps of flowering herbaceous plants under the trees. For gardeners today, Krippendorf s remarkable work teaches a fascinating lesson in continuous bloom.
Krippendorf started by planting thousands of daffodils in the woods around the house. These were not then considered woodland plants; in England they were typically planted as naturalized colonies in open meadows. Carl Krippendorf, however, found that in our warmer, sunnier climate they would thrive in woodlands kept somewhat open. He eventually had 35 acres planted in daffodils. Standing on their porch in April, he and his wife, Mary, would have viewed a carpet of daffodils running back into the woods as far as they could see.
For bloom at the height of summer, Krippendorf found a Japanese bulb, Lycoris squamigera. Its leaves emerge and die back with the daffodils, but near the end of July its leafless stalks emerge and within a week grow to their full height of two feet. A few days later they are in full bloom, four to eight pink trumpets all radiating from the top of the stalk. With thousands in bloom at once, the wheel-like umbels appeared like a cloud floating above the forest floor, taking on its contours.
Colchicums adapted well to Krippendorf’s woodland conditions, and by planting different kinds, he managed to have some in bloom from mid-August clear through October. He found that mature clumps would have 20 to 30 chalice-shaped flowers standing a foot high, lilac to purple in color, but also white. He once counted 15,000 clumps, and regretted that he had not divided them more assiduously.
When Krippendorf filled the vacant slot between the end of the daffodils and the emergence of the lycoris—the gap he solved last—the bloom puzzle was complete. He found that the vigorous biennial sweet rocket (Hesperis matromilis) would mask the dying foliage of the bulbs and provide some color and a wonderful evening scent from May into June. He noted he loved “walkingshoulder deep through the sweet rocket in the moonlight, listening to the whippoorwills.”
Of course, sweet rocket goes to seed sometime in June, and there would have followed a few drab weeks in the woods—if it weren’t for the goldfinches feasting on the seed. Krippendorf would be anxious to cut down the sweet rocket before the lycoris emerged, which could be as early as July 20, but he would try to leave it standing until the goldfinches had shredded every last seed pod. The trick was to find a dividing line between two periods of abundance. The seed harvest could be huge. “Tens of thousands of stalks,” he said, “take a lot of goldfinches,” What a spectacle that must have been. H