Perfect Plants for a Midwest Woodland Garden
In his part-shade hillside stream garden in Ann Arbor, Michigan, David Baker captures the magic of the Appalachian Trail. Here are some of the plants he used to get the look.
If hiking a stretch of the Appalachian Trail is on your adventure bucket list, David Baker’s garden offers a taste of the terrain—in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A mountain stream inspired David’s front yard, a sloping woodland expanse, where water and blooms cascade gracefully. Though the garden clones a bit of Appalachia, its DNA is all Midwestern. David bought a pickup just to haul plants from nurseries in Lake County, Ohio and he axed all the non-native trees.
Tap ahead to see some of the plants David used at his garden—and get inspiration for your own yard.
Blue Cassel Hydrangea
This beautiful blue lace-cap cultivar (Hydrangea x macrophylla ‘Blue Cassel’) is a repeat bloomer that blooms on old and new wood extending the bloom time. The shrub reaches 3 to 4 feet and grows best in filtered to partial sun. (Hardy to Zone 5)
David grows three varieties of lavender including this Lavandula ‘Munstead’ as well as ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Phenomenal.’ Native to the Mediterranean coast, lavender thrives in sunny, well-drained locations, like David’s gravel garden. (Hardy to Zone 5)
Chocolate Shogun Astilbe
Pale pink plumes rise above dark purple-brown foliage on Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’, a shade-loving perennial. Plant in moist areas near pools and water features. (Hardy to Zone 4)
This hardy shrub (Rhododendron x pennsylvanicum) stands 6 to 8 feet tall and unlike other spring-flowering rhododendrons blooms in July. The pink clusters of azalea-like flowers feature long eye-lash stamens. For best results, plant the shrubs in a shady spot in rich moist soil. (Hardy to Zone 5)
Blue Deckle Mountain Hydrangea
This low-growing lacecap hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata ‘Blue Deckle’) reaches 4 feet in height. Light blue flowers last through the summer, followed by foliage turning reddish purple in fall. The shrubs prefer part to full shade and acidic soil to achieve blue blooms; otherwise they are pink. (Hardy to Zone 6)
Tuff Stuff Mountain Hydrangea
This cold-tolerant mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata ‘Tuff Stuff’) features showy lacecap blooms in pink or purple (depending on soil acidity) and dark green foliage that resists wilting like many other big-leaf hydrangeas. The two- to three-foot shrub blooms early on old wood then again on new wood. (Hardy to Zone 5)
Turk’s Cap Asiatic Lily
David’s collection of towering Turk’s cap lilies ((Lilium superbum) adds an exotic look to his garden. They stand 6 to 8 feet tall and range in color from orange flecked and pink to burgundy and yellow. Plant the bulbs in fall in full sun to part shade. (Hardy to Zone 3)
Most varieties of Hydrangea serrata thrive in part sun yet tolerate full sun in Midwestern climates. They prefer moist soils that don’t dry out. Flower colors vary by soil’s acidity level. Generally, soils with a pH below 5.0 result in deep, vivid blue blooms, while those with higher pH levels range from lavender to pink. (Hardy to Zone 6)
One of David’s favorite ornamental trees, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) features white fragrant flowers in early summer and rich green leaves that turn yellow, red and purple in the fall. The tree is marginally hardy for southeast Michigan, so David suggests planting it on a protected north or east side of a home away from winter wind. (Hardy to Zone 5)
Lavender and Agastache
Sunny-loving purple lavender and pink agastache intermingle in David’s gravel garden.
Mountain Hydrangea and Hosta
David appreciates the delicate clusters of mountain hydrangeas with the spikes of hostas’ bell-shaped blooms.
Purple Haze Agastache
Purple Haze Agastache (Agastache ‘Purple Haze’) is a must-have for northern gardeners, says David. Combined here with a burgundy ninebark shrub, this Agastache variety is hardier than others and produces an abundance of smoky blue violet flowers. Agastache is also known as hummingbird mint, since its flowers feed butterflies and bees with plenty of nectar. (Hardy to Zone 5)
Margaret Hunt Clematis
This vigorous, free-flowering vine (Clematis ‘Margaret Hunt’) climbs 10 to 12 feet and features star-shaped flowers in lavender pink. For a spectacular display, plant the vine along a sunny wall, trellis or archway. In winter, cut back the vine 12 to 18 inches from the ground. (Hardy to Zone 4)
These tough, low-maintenance plants (Eryngium) produce striking thistle-like flowers and tolerate drought as well as deicing salts that harm many sidewalk and driveway plantings. Pair them with other sun-loving perennials like rudbeckia and coreopsis. (Hardy to Zone 4)
This flowering vine (Clematis ‘Arabella’) grows on a small trellis in full sun. David recommends adding composted chicken manure around its base to ensure blooms throughout the summer. (Hardy to Zone 4)
Inta Krombolz Sculpture
David positions allium-shaped sculptures by Inta Krombolz throughout his gardens. This one is surrounded by red Lucifer crocosmia, pink Arabella clematis and burgundy dwarf Asiatic lilies.
Pink Hydrangea and Lavender
Suspended on dry ground above a water feature, David plants Munstead lavender and Invincibelle Spirit II hydrangea. He’s a retired breast surgeon and says this pink-flowering hydrangea is part of a fundraiser for breast cancer research.