From Wilderness to Woodland (or almost)


The End  (Just so as you know this ends Happily Ever After)


Once upon a time there was a mess. A very icky sticky mess. Think mosquito-infested swamp type mess.

Cottonwoods already down and ready for the excavator

September 2010- Cottonwoods already down and ready for the excavator. Actually this photo doesn't look nearly as bad as it really was!

Cottonwoods, chunks of concrete, asphalt, beer cans, rocks and general debris were all in the scrub. And invasive weeds of course – Japanese knotweed (foreground above) and reed canary grass to name just two. Let's just say one needed a good imagination.

Thankfully when my imagination took a nosedive, my friends, colleagues and heavy machinery came to the rescue!

A stream bed was dug out

October 2010 – A stream bed was dug out

We knew this area was a swamp, the question was why and could we do anything about it? Turns out that MANY truckloads of fill dirt had been added to this part of the property which in turn had blocked the natural water course . Add to that the fact that there is clay soil, a high water table and we can even see water bubbling up out of the ground in one part of the stream bed and suddenly it starts to make sense.

Next problem was the 'grass' and weeds which we tackled by sheet mulching with cardboard and a truckload of Moo-doo. That transformed the icky stuff into remarkably good, plantable soil in less than a year.

September 2011 - the first plants go in!

September 2011 – the first plants go in!

Playchips were used for paths, two rustic bridges were added (courtesy of my ever patient and talented husband) and river rocks were gathered and set in the stream bed.

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago;

April 2013

April 2013

It's certainly not finished and is still a baby woodland but you can at least see where we're going with this! We've used bugleweed (Ajuga repens 'Catlin's Giant') as a groundcover to hold the streambanks in place and suppress weeds. It has gorgeous blue flowers in spring and glossy blue-black foliage year round. It spreads quickly but is easy to pull out if it gets out of bounds. We're happy to let it scramble to will.


Gorgeous colors with an evergreen barberry

It seems that wherever it wanders it makes a great plant combination.

Blue echoes; bugleweed and Brunnera 'Jack Frost'

Blue echoes; bugleweed and Brunnera 'Jack Frost'







Thinnings can be transplanted farther downstream.

A slugs eye view

A slugs eye view










It will be some time before the trees cast enough dappled shade for us to really call this a woodland but it's fun to see the difference in just 2 1/2 years.



(Oh and in case you were wondering, the stream RUNS in the wet season! Almost good enough for a game of Pooh-Sticks.)

Plant Facts

Key trees;

Swedish aspen, golden locust, Japanese maples, Autumn Blaze maples, Himalayan white birch

Key shrubs;

Barberries, Ogon spirea, chokeweed (Aronia), Rhododendron 'Impeditum'

Key perennials;

Hosta, iris, astilbe, Virginia sweetspire, variegated Jacob's ladder, grasses, ferns, Brunnera 'Jack Frost', bugleweed, bleeding heart, primroses

Many shrubs, perennials and smaller maples were transplanted from other parts of the garden or moved house with us and had been patiently waiting for a home! Some were gifts and others were bargain finds.

NOTE; the ornamental pear trees at the right of all the main photographs will help you orient the perspective.


  1. Christina on May 27, 2013 at 8:43 am

    I love what you are doing, and it is great to see the progress of your planting ideas. Christina

    • Karen Chapman on May 27, 2013 at 7:09 pm

      Thank you Christina – it's just good to see PROGRESS!

  2. Patrick on May 27, 2013 at 8:59 am

    How inspiring and it shall be a blast to watch it mature. The ajuga makes for an interesting stream. But, take no offense, the bridges are the best part of the design.

    • Karen Chapman on May 27, 2013 at 7:10 pm

      Ha ha – I'll tell my husband that! He'll totally agree with you 🙂

  3. Maria on May 27, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    What gorgeous colour and design. Well done!

    • Karen Chapman on May 27, 2013 at 7:11 pm

      Thank you Maria – I do love that blast of blue in spring but already the yellow irises and grasses have started to adjust the color scheme. It constantly evolves

  4. Heike Perry on May 27, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    As always, Karen, I enjoy your posts. Keep them coming

    • Karen Chapman on May 27, 2013 at 7:11 pm

      You're a great cheerleader Heike – thank you.

  5. debsgarden on May 27, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    I love your baby woodland and all the plants you have chosen. The deep blue of the ajuga is so perfect, giving the impression of water even when the stream is dry. You have created a beautiful space that will only grow more lovely with age. One would never know that wilderness prevailed just three years ago. Yes, we are kindred spirits!

    • Karen Chapman on May 29, 2013 at 8:01 pm

      Thanks Deb. I'm not sure it will ever quite be as stunning as your woodland but it's certainly better than it was!

  6. Jennifer on May 28, 2013 at 3:46 am

    What an amazing transformation! Truly impressive Karen! You would never know the garden as it looks now was a swamp. The design with the bridge and the winding path is perfect too. I haven't forgotten about your book review and hope to get to it shortly.

    • Karen Chapman on May 29, 2013 at 8:01 pm

      Thanks for taking time to leave a comment Jennifer!

  7. Beth Cawein on May 29, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    So neat to see the transformation and, I'm sure, it will just keep on getting better. A lot of work, but looks like the payoff is well worth it. Very nice!

    • Karen Chapman on May 29, 2013 at 8:02 pm

      Hi Beth – yes lots of aching muscles but we can finally see some results. Glad you enjoyed the visit 🙂

  8. Jean at Jean's Garden on June 2, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    A beautiful result!