Woodland Shade Gardening

Woodland shade gardening with a purpose – pleasure, creativity, rainwater collection!

Charles O. Cresson

“A Dell of Ferns” is an article written by Charles O. Cresson, that appeared in Fine Gardening magazine. A summary at the end of the article explains how to create a double border. This summary put into words what I had never been able to see in pictures of gardens. It changed how I view garden photographs, how I view gardens, and how I think about planting gardens – not just planting borders. After reading the article I summarized the summary into my gardening notebook, and have read it several times. And will probably read it more times!

This was my turning point as a gardener. Previously, I had been fond of plants, but had little concept of how to think of placing them. My garden at my previous home was full and shady, a plant collector’s love of shopping showed clearly. But Charles O. Cresson’s article opened my eyes, very suddenly and with much light, to the idea of sitting down with pencil and paper and deciding how I wanted to design my garden. Much research and study was needed to know which shrubs would prosper if planted on my shady property. I used library books, the internet, and a very knowledgeable plantsman at Latham’s Nursery – and I finally began to feel the idea take shape in my mind.

Not all of Charles O. Cresson’s theories appear in my gardens, but his theories guide me as I consider possibilities. It seems logical that a small urban lot could ‘echo’ groupings from one side of the yard to the other, which is a very large way of planting a double border. The plants in my design are still small and immature, but my mind can imagine their mature sizes as I stroll through my gardens and contemplate the joy of growth, and time. Their forms, colors, textures, and sense of enclosure are already speaking to me.

For those who wish to know, here is the capsule version of the article, verbatim from my notebook! I particularly like the explanation of echoes, and of balancing mass.

  • Contrast by placing markedly different foliage next to each other. For instance – finely cut fern, large solid hosta, & tall spiky plant behind horizontally spreading ferns. Or – purple ajuga under & around light green fern. Or – use a plant with large foliage behind one with similar, but smaller, foliage.
  • Should look balanced on each side of path, but no rigid symmetry. Large elements to the back; repeat plants here & there, but not directly across from each other. Bring a sense of unity.
  • Use larger plants singly as specimens, so they don’t overwhelm visually – shorter, smaller plants to front edge in groups of three or more, so their mass is equal to the plants behind/near them.
  • Repeat these groupings elsewhere so they seem to ‘echo’ back & forth as one walks down the pathway.
  • Use repetition of colors & textures.
  • Knit it all together with low-growing ground covers.

Gardens at Hedgleigh Spring.

Thank you, Charles. You really did change my life!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on May 9, 2015 by in Gardens Visited.
whiskey kittens

Woodland shade gardening with a purpose - pleasure, creativity, rainwater collection!



Southern Wild

Garden & Home

%d bloggers like this: