What to plant under aspen trees

lktakuMay 10, 2010

Hi all,

I have a fairly small backyard with lots of trees in it, especially aspen trees. There is a water fountain and small pond in one corner, with two dry streambeds (think cobble and then 2" river rock) that we just put in to wind through it...this was to get rid of most the lawn and it looks wonderful. Now, my struggle is what to plant under the aspens. They are older- say 20 years and doing well. There are two other trees there that create a deeper shade in parts of the yard. In that space I have some hostas and ferns, gallium and Solomon seal which look lovely. Now I need to figure out the aspens. I am torn between an English garden style and something that mimics the natural habitat. We do want something lower maintenance and somewhat dog resistant(although I am trying little barriers now). I can go the route of Annabelle hydrangea with astilbe, bleeding hearts, heucehera, pulmonaria, etc....OR well, I don't know what shrubs would look right there. In the yard elsewhere is a burning bush (which my dog likes to chew on),currants and a couple low growing junipers. I just don't know what I can do to make it look more like a natural woodland habitat...and/or can I combine them? thanks! Lisa

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treebarb Z5 Denver

I love the fall color combination of aspen and sumac. It just says fall in the Rockies to me. Just make sure you get a non-poisonous variety. The sumacs are the orange shrubs in the lower right corner of the pic, sorry it's not bigger.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sumac with Aspen

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 8:40PM
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treebarb Z5 Denver

Oops, wrong link above. Please use this one.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sumac with Aspen

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 9:09PM
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I'm not to good at getting an idea of what a garden looks like without pictures but...

Along the stream bed, I think Anemone sylvestris would mimic what I see out here (though, I've never been to Idaho except for driving through!). I can picture bleeding hearts and shooting stars looking very nice alongside the galium and solomon's. I'd like a little more of a woodland look than an English garden look even though I adore an English garden! The suggestion of sumac is right on with what I picture. My neighbor has sumac at the base of trees and she has a dry creek too. Fall is a lovely sight next door!

Hmm, you could almost do both...instead of lavender, you could plant catmint, instead of David Austin roses, you could plant wild and nearly wild roses. Oooh, you could plant lots of flowering herbs!

Sounds like fun!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 11:31PM
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If you want to add a native looking evergreen ground cover to the mix, arctostaphylos is an option.

There are a couple of related varieties listed at Plant Select.

Here is a link that might be useful: arctostaphylos at Plant Select

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 11:02AM
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Dan Staley

Ribes odoratum 'Crandall' for spring fls, fall color and occasional bird food, plus Rhus aromatica 'Grow Low', and Douglas maple for fall color contrast to aspens,

kinnikinnick, Rubus arcticus (nagoonberry, yummy!), sprinkle daffodils early season and red tulips mid-season, potentilla, one Saskatoon to mix with the aspen trunks at the verge of the aspen dripline, Physocarpus malvaceus over the 'Grow Low', Shepherdia canadensis for ice cream, of course some blueberries if you can water them.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 11:39AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Iktaku,

Welcome to RMG!

Ok! Youre getting lots of recommendations for shrubby stuff, but IÂm a FLOWER person, so IÂm gonna recommend some flowers that would work! I donÂt know if these are "English garden" flowers or not! Every time I hear somebody talking about an English garden, or showing pictures of one, theyÂre always different, so IÂve come to the conclusion that everybody has their own idea of what an English garden should look like! To me, most of these are flowers that would look good in a "woodland" type of setting. Just my opinion, guys! I know everybody has a different idea about that too!

So here are some suggestions from a Flower PersonÂwhatever you decide to call the garden!

I second the Anemone sylvestris! They look wonderfully "natural" and are also great cut flowers!
(IÂll post thumbnails, and you can click to enlarge any you want to see!)

I also second putting in a variety of spring bulbs. Daffodils, grape hyacinths, species tulips and the really early smaller onesÂGalanthus/snowdrops, Chionodoxa/glory-of-the-snow, and more! And the species crocus have a very native/natural look.

I think patches of lily-of-the-valley would look good along with forget-me-nots and some Saxifraga/saxifrage. Forget-me-nots reseed freely and wind up "very" natural looking. After they start producing seed, I just pull out the current yearÂs batch, and the following year there are even more! And little violas or Johnny-jump-upsÂwhich also reseed freely, would add color. All in this pic except the lily-of-the-valley.

ThereÂs also false forget-me-not, Brunnera macrophylla. And thereÂs a variety called ÂLooking Glass that has white leaves, which is wonderful to lighten up shade. I got one at last yearÂs fall swap, and itÂs not big enough yet to have a decent picture, but I LOVE it! ItÂs blooming for the first time now!

Hardy cyclamen also have a great woodsy look. The first one, Cyclamen hederifolium is summer dormant, so thereÂs no foliage over summer, but it blooms in late summer, and then gets wonderful two-tone green leaves right after it starts bloomingÂand keeps them all winter! The pink one is Cyclamen purpurascens, which keeps its leaves all summer!

For some brighter color thereÂs coral bells, Heuchera sanguineaÂbloom most of the summer if you keep them deadheaded. ÂFirefly is the reddest one that I know of.

And Geranium sanguinea would work in any of your light conditions, and with the right conditions the leaves turn red in fall. My sanguineaÂfrom a swapÂisnÂt big enough yet for a picture, but I also have Geranium dalmaticum ÂCompact RoseÂ, and there are lots of other species of geraniums. A somewhat unusual one is Geranium renardii, which has a real thick, leathery looking leaf.

Then thereÂs the blue Rocky Mountain columbine, Aquilegia caerulea, and lupines come in a variety of colors and heights, and in the sunnier spots, Iceland poppies would add some bright color.

ThereÂs pasque flowersÂPulsatilla vulgaris is the most common, but thereÂs also P. patens, Rocky Mountain Pasque flower (just one of its common names), and some other species. They get pretty, silvery seed heads when theyÂre done bloomingÂmine looks great this year, but I havenÂt had time to download the seed head pics yet!

There are a bunch of different species of primrosesÂthe most common is Primula vulgaris, but there are lots of others that have a more "wild" look. I also have drumstick primrose, Primula denticulata. (This is a "first year" pic. TheyÂre bigger and better this year!)

And there are a bunch of short species of campanula/bell flowers. Campanula rotundifolia is just one of them, but it has a VERY woodsy look. (Also a first year picture, and itÂs big and beautiful this yearÂbut not blooming yet!)

You could also put in some alpine strawberries, Fragaria vesca. TheyÂd need at least some intermittent sun, but mine are right against the north side of the house on the east end, and they do well with not a whole lot of direct sun. F. vesca doesnÂt get runners, so they stay where you put them! They get very small berriesÂwith the most intense strawberry flavor youÂll ever find!

And then.......

For shrubby stuff, IÂd second the kinnikinnick, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi suggestion, or the PlantSelect one thatÂs linked, Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis. TheyÂd definitely give you a "mountain woods" look.

Another possibility that grows wild out in the hills would be Mahonia repens, creeping barberry/creeping Oregon grape holly, but you wouldnÂt want it in areas where you work a lot, Âcause the leaves are "poky" just like real holly. It also would spread a lot if not kept pruned back, but if you just want to cover ground, it would work for that, and the leaves turn reddish/purplish over winterÂdependant on the weather.

ButÂI like flowers!

Post some pics when you have time,

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 6:40PM
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THANK YOU, THANK YOU ALL! I apologize for not responding sooner..I was thinking that the responses would be emailed to me, but I guess they aren't ;)

I was totally thinking about planting a bunch of bulbs so that is absolutely wonderful...I appreciate the suggestions on those and the flowers...I adore them. AND I just bought 3 kinnickkinnick at a local nursery to try yesterday! It says it wants gravel soil so we will see how it will do here., as my soil is a bit more clay-ey with rocks in it...although I am amending it with compost.

Your photos are so inspiring. I saw the sumac the local garden center and was drawn to them, but worried about how big they would get. I will double check.

And I LOVE the look of arctostaphylos, the flowers remind me of KK and I would like an evergreen option.

So - my only concern with the flowers is the dogs...they will walk through them unless I fence the yard, but I may just have to deal with that.

Also, many of the shrubs listed are BIG...and my property is small. The back bed is probably 60 feet long by about 6 six at its widest...and usually no more than 3 feet. I have a huge red twig dogwood I've let go crazy as I like the structure in winter there. Too bad, there was also one in the corner that my husband hacked out before I found out ;(. I was thinking maybe a lilac back there - or a viburnum?

Then there is the other kind of L shaped bed under the aspens. But again, it is only about 20 feet long by 13 at the longest legs. More like 5 feet winding down to the ends.

So, with some of these I would really have to trim them back pretty hard...Is that okay for the plants?

I am also thinking about adding some grasses - like Idaho Boulder Blue fescue - for interest. And of course, a simple wood mulch.

To help, I went ahead and put up some photos...

I LOVE the flowers, but am worried about them with my dogs...in one of the photos you can see a makeshift fence around the bed - just trying to train my 2 80# Chesapeake Bay Retrievers about where the new paths are.


In this first photo - the bed is along the back fence up to the streambed. The second photo gives you another view. In that far corner is a small fountain and pond. The third and fourth photos have the main bed ringed in makeshift fences. And you can't see it now, but again that back fence there that is gray with metal (That big dog likes to break through the fence there and we have to fence over it with a second cedar fence!) will be yet another bed about 5 feet by 20 feet..No aspen there, just one tree and I am waiting to plant that unless I figure out a great idea.

And sorry for the construction mess...we just put up that new fence last weekend ;)

Again, thank you all for your wonderful help and kindness...I can see where this native woodland look can be lower maintenance and easier with dogs...And then will try to add some flowers where they can get most protected and the biggest view of them...so keep any suggestions coming!

Take care, Lisa

    Bookmark   May 12, 2010 at 3:13PM
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