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Add some native species to the shade garden

Trillium is seen blooming in a Jamestown garden this spring.

The month of June tends to go by very quickly for gardeners as there is always so much going on in the garden. This year, due to the delay in spring, things are growing quickly to make up for lost time. If you miss a day in the garden you will miss a new bloom, plant or critter within the garden realm. I usually get caught up in a whirlwind of activity. I can’t remember where I just planted seed or summer bulbs. I see things coming up days later, and I wonder what the heck I planted there, but my forgetfulness is sometimes my best friend as it allows for many surprises in the garden.

Of all the gardens, I think it is the shade garden that I enjoy the most. Not because there are a great deal of flowers, but because there are so many textures and leaf colors. This is also the garden in which you can introduce many native woodland plants to bring a little bit of nature into your manicured garden. There are items such as Jack-in-the-pulpits, Solomon seals, bloodroots, bunchberry, violets and anemones. One of the woodland plants that stand out in my mind is the trillium.

Trilliums are in a family of about 40 to 50 different species. They enjoy full to partial shady locations in areas of rich, organic matter that lie a little on the acidic side. Moist soils are an added bonus to allowing these plants to thrive. Of the trilliums available, they grow in zone ranges of 3 to 9, so make sure you are purchasing the right plant for your area.

The white trillium is known as the provincial flower of Ontario, Canada, and is also the state flower of Ohio. In many states and Canadian provinces, this woodland plant is protected by law and cannot be collected in the wild without a hefty fine. The best way to acquire these plants is through a reputable catalog or local nursery.

When trillium comes up in the spring, it exhibits a thick sprig similar to that of a Lentan rose. As it unfurls, it produces what looks to be a three-leaflet leaf with a bud coming up from the center. This “leaf” is actually the bract in which the flower bud is derived. As the flower opens, it has three petals surrounded by three additional sepals or flower calyxes. It gives the flower the impression of a six-petalled bloom. The plant itself does not have any true leaves except for some scales on the base of the rhizome in which they grow. The flower stems can reach from 6 to 18 inches in height depending on the variety that is selected.

The flowers come in colors of white, pink, yellow, burgundy and green. Some of the burgundy ones are rare and protected by law throughout the world, so make sure you never to try and harvest any of them from the wild.

Dividing trillium is a little more delicate than most woodland plants. Only divide once the plant has gone dormant. This is usually from the months of July through September. Since trillium grows through rhizomes, these get dug, divided and planted before Sept. 15 to make sure its rooting structure develops well enough to establish before winter sets in. Division is the easiest way to propagate this plant, and all rhizomes are planted 3 inches deep.

In nature, propagation occurs by ants collecting the seeds, which look like small berries, and moving them to other locations. Mature seeds can take up to two years to germinate and come up as new plants. Once the seeds emerge, it can take five to seven years before they are ready to bloom. Dividing the plants takes around three to five years to establish enough to bloom. This is a plant for the patient at heart, but also for those who enjoy the simplicity, yet delightful elegance of the plant when in bloom.

If you want to add an early blooming delight to your shade garden that is native to the area, try one of the many selections available for our area that thrives in the moist and organic conditions of the shady landscape. Many nurseries or mail order catalogs will carry them for easy access.

Shade gardening with native species is not only fun, but can be extremely exhilarating when working with plants from our region. Many of our native plants have great landscape qualities to enhance our overall garden appearance.

Trilliums are the key to a diverse yet dynamic landscape in the shade garden. Enjoy your weekend and for all you fathers out there, happy Father’s Day!