Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pink Light in a Forest

     I love to spend time wandering in the woods and have left a good deal of my own property wooded as a result.  In fact, I have created a woodland garden.  This began with the basic mature hardwood forest that remained after the construction of my house and after the felling of a number of trees due to a hurricane that passed through the area soon after I moved in.  Although the garden might appear to be simply an area that was left to grow wild, on second glance even the casual visitor might begin to notice strategically located groupings of native woodland perennials and shrubs living under the canopy.  The curving set of steps leading down the hillside to the creek might also be a dead giveaway that this is not simply forgotten wild land.
     In the fall, the prime attraction is without a doubt the tree canopy.  By the end of summer even the hardiest of woodland flowers have disappeared and the color and attention is primarily in the plants that produce berries.  Most of these berries are gone when the leaves begin to turn color.  They have been greedily eaten by the hosts of birds that swoop through.  The eye and attention is most definitely upward, and the color is most prevalent on the edges of openings where the leaves are more inclined to be effected by frost and to be more visible.
     Closer to the ground the forest will still be shady in the fall although the amount of light does increase as the season progresses.  One delight that I like to see this time of the year in the forest is the bright pink of the Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium).  This plant turns an amazing pink that looks as if someone has turned on light behind every leaf.  It is not a big plant.  In fact, they only reach about five feet at maturity, which adds to the delight and impression of light because the leaves are at eye level and the entire plant can be readily.  Instead of viewing the leaves from underneath, as is the case with tree canopies, you are actually able to view these leaves from the top of the leaf and at close range.  Added to this, is the fact that the plants will often still have clusters of deep blue (almost black) berries.
     This is a great plant to use in your woodland garden for more than just its fall wonder, although the color is incredible.  The plant is native to the North Carolina woods and begins the year with clusters of white flowers in the late spring.  These lead to clusters of berries that attract a number of birds and mammals for food.  It also provides good cover in its tangle of branches for many of these animals.  Finally, it is a relatively easy plant to grow.  Plant your Mapleleaf Viburnum in well-drained but moist soils in areas that get partial shade and they will thrive.  I like to put them in clusters of three to five for effect, but even singly they are a most delightful plant.

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