A conundrum seems the best thing to call it. It is a question that has arisen several times while working on a “Six on Saturday” post. In reporting on what’s going on in the garden at Highland Lake, I often make a distinction between the area in front of the house that has several clearly designated planting areas and the area to the side of the house that is heavily wooded. I have called that the “wooded” area or the “uncultivated” area or the “native” part of the garden. But as many of my friends and former students know, I can be rather particular about what words mean. I try to maintain the distinction between less and fewer, may and might, that and which, myself and me. The list could go on. The point is, I’m not certain what I can legitimately, should linguistically, call that side lot that has several pine, oak, maple, hornbeam, sassafras, and sourwood trees on it.
I’ve been doing considerable reading lately in European and American garden history. Even without that, I know this space is not a forest, much less forested. It is not really a woodland, and it surely is not a woodlot, which in the U.S. indicates land set aside for the production of forest products. I guess it might be a wooded lot. At least the scale of a lot is far closer to the truth than the scale of a forest. By the same reasoning it is certainly not a park, especially in any historical sense. In the Middle Ages, a park was an enclosed wooded expanse set aside for aristocratic hunting or leisurely the viewing of animals such as deer and rabbits. Deer park at Magdalen College, Oxford, in the first photo below, is a gentle legacy of such parks. The second is a critter cam capture of a deer among my trees one night. And there are rabbits, but many more squirrels that scamper through the lot. Still, one nighttime deer does not a medieval park make.
Nonetheless, from the perspective of the roadside, looking down through the trees, the lot does look a bit woodsy.
Of course, more than trees (and noxious vines) naturally grows here as well–especially oakleaf hydrangea and mapleleaf viburnum. Throughout the spring and summer wildflowers appear where they will as well: cranefly orchards, sharp-lobed hepatica, rue anemone, wild ginger, wake robin trillium, Carolina lilies, prairie phlox, dwarf irises, rosinweed, rudbeckia, and mountain mint. Some of those wildflowers I’ve transplanted in a small wildflower plot.
I’ve created a few other designated planting areas, too—most prominently, the iris bed just out of the frame to the left in the “woodsy” photo above. When in bloom, it is eye catching. In front of the irises, running along a fence lie two-year-old border plantings of yarrow, daffodils, liriope, obedient plants, more irises, and a few shrubs, which are just beginning to show springtime growth.
In addition, there is a shady area set aside for hostas well into the lot and several hostas planted along the dry creek bed among ferns and hellebores, which are punctuated by woodland phlox in the spring.
But most the important—and my favorite—addition to the area is snow bear, on his white granite stones snuggled in among the hellebores and the Camellia japonica ‘Grace Albritton.’
So, regardless of tree-related nomenclature, this is a garden, right? A woodland garden? A wooded garden? But a garden, nonetheless—a designated space for plants, shrubs, and trees both natural and planned. It is a space organized to a particular aesthetic and purpose, a space where I impose my design on nature. Hopefully, I do that harmoniously, even if idiosyncratically as evidenced by Alabama snow bear.
In the end, my conundrum has no simple resolution. Maybe this space is simply the eastern half of the garden or the part of the garden on the far side of the dry creek run-off, a place I’ve called Wolf Creek since I purchased that lot 20 years ago. A garden by any other name is, after all, still a garden.
© Susan K. Hagen, 2022