Dutchman's Breeches & Celandine Poppies carpet the woodland floor

Dutchman’s Breeches Dutchman’s Breeches & Celandine Poppies carpet the woodland floor

I took my camera and revisited a property that the homeowner asked me to install deer fence 3 years ago to see the difference it has made. The change is pretty extraordinary. The garden has always been a woodland garden the homeowner really put a lot of work into improving while at the same time keeping the character of a native woodland garden. It had become a constant struggle though as the deer just devastated not only a lot of hard work but also the existing native understory plantings such as native Viburnums one would expect to see in a Maryland forest.


The transformation didn’t even take that long. Minus the presence of deer, it seemed as if plants that had cowered in fear for years just burst from the forest floor. Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerfolium), Possumhaw (Viburnum nudum) and Beautyberry (Callicarpa sp.) immediately sprang up and made their presence known. Natives such as Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), (Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) have made a huge comeback even so much as carpeting the woodland floor here in the 3rd Spring since the barrier went up.

Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman’s Breeches


I observed an interesting comparison as the neighbors to either side have for the most part left their properties mostly natural but unfenced. It’s like the understory has been eliminated entirely and the woodland floor has limited diversity. Mostly Trout Lily (Erythronium sp.), a beautiful native but lacking any appeal to the deer, has thrived. This is also a plant that comes up in the Spring and then goes dormant as Summer heat starts to roll in. Its’ limited appearance at the time of year when there is a virtual smorgasbord of native and cultivated plants available has aided its’ survival.

Home of the deer

Home of the deer

It has just been recently that deer have become commonplace on my 3 acres. So far there has been enough woodland area to the North of me and, I guess, enough local landscaping that they are not a problem. Yet.




Daffodils framed by PJM Rhododendron

Spring has really been procrastinating this year but I think we are done with Winter (and snow) until next Winter rolls back around. Spring may be late but I know it will be renewing to our gardens and spirits as it always is. It’s just such a great time of year as everything in nature just seems so brand new. In our area, and in nearly half the country, the simple delight of seeing the first hints of Spring come with the expansion of the leaf buds of our native red maple (Acer rubrum). It seems an oxymoron but it’s a pleasure to drive on the highway and have great clouds of red along the side of  the road indicating the our earliest Spring tree is getting ready to leaf out. As predicted, this Spring will be one of an explosion of colors more so than the normal succession as plants roll out their Spring finery.


I am also seeing an awful lot of Winter damage to a wide variety of plant material. Things like Yews which qualify as one of the cold-hardiest plants grown in our area have Winter burn. Another surprising plant with burn is the overused Leyland Cypress. Less surprising are things like Holly cultivars, Hydrangea and Sarcococca. It remains to be seen the effect the cold weather had on Crepe Myrtle as this is one of the latest plants to leaf out. I believe we will not see the total effect until mid-Summer when hot weather will deliver the coup-de-grace to plants barely hanging on after unseen damage to their root systems. I think back onto the importance of late Fall watering of newly planted plants and less hardy shrubs to give them a better chance at surviving a harsh Winter. A good thing I am observing here on my property (Zone 6) is a windbreak of Yoshino Cryptomeria which are about 9’ tall that I planted 3 years ago. They are in perfect condition with no dieback or burning! They even held their good green color throughout the Winter. Kudos to the breeder of a Cryptomeria which appears to be Winter hardy in our area.