Backyard Gardener: This 'room' is courtesy of greatest gardener


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There is a certain irony to being a garden writer. Speaking, writing, video producing and blogging leaves too little time for actual gardening.

Without a gardener, the garden eventually reverts to the wild. Standing over some pretty phlox covered with bindweed and creeping Charlie made me feel guilty, so I planned to spend one whole day wrestling the garden into shape.

I pulled, cultivated, planted and edged, and although I didn't get to everything, the most important jobs were done and actually done right (for once).

As the sun dipped below the tree line, I walked back to an area I call the Fern Room. It's a woodland area on the edge of my property with one chair to sit in and another for my feet. It's never been cultivated, and the forest floor is covered in pretty wild ferns. It was the first time I had been able to visit there this season. I had forgotten how magical it was to quietly listen to the birds and watch nature unfold. It might have been the most rewarding part of the day.

Two tiny white butterflies twirled in the air in a patch of sunlight. A little gray mouse scurried under my chair, unaware I was there. Countless insects landed on the plants, either as a respite or to hunt for dinner.

My green carpet is made up mostly of hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), a native that is aggressive but beautiful and smells like hay. Because the deer don't eat it, this fern can run rampant through the forest. This colony sits under two huge pine trees. Like most ferns, it enjoys shade or part sun and a woodland soil.

I was surprised to learn hay scented ferns were available in the nursery trade. It's the perfect plant for a groundcover to fill and area in an hurry. But be careful what you wish for with this plant as it could become invasive in the right conditions.

Other beds in my garden are filled with Japanese painted ferns and other varieties. I've done my best to combine them in a natural way with other shade lovers, but nothing I can do can compare with the Fern Room.

As a light breeze arose from the west, the ferns swayed slightly in perfect rhythm. The sun continued to sink, changing color from a hazy yellow to deep orange. Every couple minutes, a different group of ferns was bathed in the light streaming through the trees.

Even though my garden will never be as perfect as the Fern Room, it's wonderful in its own way, even when it does have to fend for itself. As I pondered this, the guilt of a thousand gardening transgressions was washed away.

The Fern Room doesn't have a gardener. It was created effortlessly by nature. It's as beautiful as any garden I've ever seen. Now that's ironic.

garden

Doug Oster: doster@post-gazette.com or 412-779-5861. Visit his garden blog at www.post-gazette.com/gardeningwithdoug. Twitter: @dougoster1.


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