Woodland Garden at La Providencia Building

Woodland Garden at La Providencia Building

At one time the garden in front of La Providencia (Building 4) in Brentwood was a place for Academy students to take graduation photos.  Some of the traditional plantings in the garden included species now known to be invasive such as English ivy, periwinkle, burning bush and barberry.  Over the years, these plants formed a weedy thicket.  English ivy is a non-native invasive evergreen climbing vine that covers and kills trees. As a ground cover, this ivy chokes out other plants, creating an “ivy desert” where nothing else can grow.  Poison ivy was also attached to trees with hairy, aerial roots borne along the stem.

English ivy and poison ivy carpeted the ground and choked the trees.  After clearing and replanting forest natives are growing and a bed of pine needles cushions the path. 

We worked with the landscapers to clear out these troublesome species and create a clean slate from which to re-build the garden.  During the process we uncovered a unique stone wall which had been covered in vines.  The wall is made of various stones including marble and granite that appear to have been off-cuts salvaged from construction of the buildings.  Loose and crumbling sections of the wall were re-cemented.

This is a prominent area where Sisters living in the Convent and staff can easily access it.  The mature oaks and pines create dappled shade, ideal for staying cool on hot days.  The trees also formed the framework for planting.  The species chosen are all native and many are shade-loving woodland species.  As the plants grow, they will form an ecosystem similar to that in the woodlands.  A full list of species and notes on their benefits are below.

In spring 2021 more plantings will be added near the convent ramp.  Benches were recently added so that anyone who wants to can smell the flowers and watch birds and pollinators as they share in the garden.

One of the recycled plastic benches nestled in the woodland garden.

Plants in the Garden

Trees

Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus): is the largest pine species on the East coast and are a characteristic species in the woodland on campus.  The mature specimens already in the garden provide nutritious seed and excellent nesting sites for squirrels and many songbird species.

White oak (Quercus alba): the habitat value of a mature oak like the one in this garden cannot be over-stated.  Oaks host over 500 species of butterflies and moths, more than any other genus.  The acorns they produce are a primary nutrient source for species ranging from deer to chipmunks.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum): This small tree was planted in the understory as a second layer under the canopy trees.  Sassafras was used by Native Americans for food and medicine including traditional root beer.

 

Shrubs

Inkberry (Ilex glabra): As the name suggests this shrub produces berries which attract birds and the flowers are a favorite of honeybees.  They can easily be pruned in a formal hedgerow style and serve as a barrier to street noise.

Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum): The ‘Rhodies’ sold at nurseries are variations on this native species which is well adapted to poor soils.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin): Flowering as early as March the little flowers are a much-needed meal for hungry pollinators.  It is also the host plant of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.  The plant and insect sharing a name is an acknowledgment of their interdependence and a reminder that each species has its purpose.

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar found on a freshly planted spicebush shrub.

Spring-flowering Perennials

Strawberry (Fragaria Spp.): A variety of strawberry species are native to our area.  They provide the obvious sweet red berries but are also an important ground-cover, protecting a thriving ecosystem in the soil.

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum): Showy oink flowers make this clumping ground cover an eye-catcher for both humans and bumble bees.  Birds, particularly mounring doves enjoy the seeds.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense): Though not related to culinary ginger the root of this plant has a similar smell and historically was used as a ginger substitute.  Its thick heart-shaped leaves are a good ground-cover for shady gardens and it is a host plant for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly.

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis): The flowers, which do resemble a small five-fingered glove are a favorite of bumble bees and hummingbirds.

Wild geranium putting out a rare late bloom. 

Summer-flowering Perennials

Giant Hyssop (Agastache): The purple flower spires are long-blooming and quickly found by foraging bees.  The leaves of the plant which look like catmint make a delicious tea.

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata): Flowers in this genus are becoming a staple of wildlife gardens because they are the host plant of monarch butterflies.  The mauve flowers of swamp milkweed attract a variety of other butterflies as well.

Slender mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium): Native bees love dense clumps of white flowers and even the smallest of them can use it.  The smell of the leaves is said to repel pests like mosquitoes.

Joe-pye-weed (Eupatorium purpureum): At maturity, this impressive perennial grows 7 feet tall and produces an umbrella of purple-pink flowers.  It then dies back to the ground every year and the hollow dead stalks are a favorite over-wintering home for insects.

Fall-flowering Perennials

New York aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii): Bold purple petals attract bees and butterflies and a yellow center disc provides them a landing pad.  Aster blooms are a sign of fall and an important nectar source for migrating butterflies.

Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa): Goldenrods are similar to asters in that their blooming is a sign of fall and their flowers power the migrations and late-season energy storing efforts of many species.  Though many believe that these vibrant yellow flowers make them sneeze its pollen is actually too large and sticky to be blown by wind; only pollinators can ferry the pollen grains from flower to flower.

White snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum): The fluffy white flowers can bloom as late as November.  Small butterflies in particular are drawn to it and song birds eat the seeds over the hungry winter months.

Ferns and Sedges

Goldie’s wood fern (Dryopteris goldiana): Ferns are often early colonizers of disturbed sites and some can even detoxify soil.  This fern is the largest in the northeast with fronds up to three feet long.  It is a host plant to a few moth species.

Sedges (Carex bromoides, C. laxiculmis): These sedges are host plants for a number of butterflies while their seeds are eaten by birds.  Their clumping nature provides shelter for insects and small mammals.

Over time this garden will develop.  The relative abundance of the species may change based on nature’s input.  With gentle care we will see it become lush with plants and melodious with birdsong.

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