Sunday Morning Garden Chat: West By God Virginia

jrinwv EXP Daffodils by the steps

From commentor JR in WV:

I thought I should send you a few pictures of our WV woodland shade perennial gardening project, since it is quite different from yard gardening. Our house is right in the woods, in a south-facing cove on our wooded “farm” in south-western West Virginia.

We’ve been lucky enough to live here for about 35 years, at first in a “jenny lind style” board house which had no utilities when we bought the place, and then since 1994 in the house we built in the woods. Because of the dense forest, we can only work with shade tolerant plants. Because I’m lazy in some ways, we mostly work with native perennials, some of which do better than others.

We have lots of moss covered rocks and boulders and such, native volunteer ferns all around like maidenhair ferns and sensitive ferns, ferns we’ve added over the years like Japanese ferns, violets and white violets, planted bluebells, trout lilly, aka dogtooth violets, trillium (red and white, giant and regular small ones too), ramps (which were once native, then harvested into extinction, and which I’ve reintroduced from more remote parts of WV).

jrinwv EXP Bluebells in the woods

I tried to transplant some native pink ladyslipper orchids from my parents’ home (near Beckley) before we sold it. No sign of them yet, but they’re a funny and exotic plant for W Va. They were thick in the woods around my folks place when I was a kid, but by the time I came home from the Navy there was no sign of them, and I assumed they had disappeared because of obvious big changes in the microclimate. But then 20 years later, there they were again, as thick as violets in a native lawn!

So I got a botanist from a local museum to collect some, because he was an expert in orchid propagation, and we collected a dozen, which we planted in areas as similar to their original home as possible. It’s been nearly 10 years now since Dad died, and probably 8 years since we moved them. We’re 1800 feet elevation lower than their origin, but the forest is very similar, hardwoods with little patches of pine woods spread around. So I still have hope that one year when the stars align there will be Pink Ladyslippers on our place.

jrinwv EXP small white native Trillium
jrinwv EXP 1 of a hundred trout lilies

44 replies
  1. 1
    raven says:

    Almost heaven!

  2. 2
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Looks just like home. Ladyslippers are indeed finicky. As much time as I have spent running around in the springtime woods, I have only come across them twice (the yellow variant). My guess is they don’t like morels. At any rate, they are indeed glorious and I share your envy.

  3. 3
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Our own “red” trilliums look like Trillium sessile, tho I suspect they are really a variant of the Ozark Trillium, as they don’t have any scent to speak of. While we call them Wake Robin, the Osage name for them was interpreted as “Much Hunger” which meant you had to be really hungry to eat them.

  4. 4
    satby says:

    Very beautiful! I spent yesterday working on a Nature Conservancy site in MI, where we got quite an education about native plants. And ticks. Ticks skeeve this city girl out, I scored 3 and worried all night I missed one.

  5. 5
    JPL says:

    Next week, weather permitting, I am getting a new driveway. From what I understand, the first day is jack hammering and lots of noise. Then comes the cement. AT&T marked their lines and there is no way, that line survives. I expect that there will be many trips to Starbucks before that is fixed. The reason for the new driveway is that neighbors tree roots have caused it to lift. UGH… expensive trees.

  6. 6
    Iowa Old Lady says:

    We went out looking for bluebells yesterday, but they’re just starting to come up. Next weekend and the one after, they should be a cloud over the forest floor.

  7. 7
    HinTN says:

    Your woods sound very similar to our Cumberland Plateau and your wildflowers are the same, so I expect you have treason reason to hope regarding the pink ladyslippers. The bluebells look gorgeous. Does water flow over them at some point in the year?

  8. 8
    currants says:

    @satby: what, you don’t like ectodermal parasites? Can’t imagine why….

  9. 9
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @currants: “ectodermal parasites”… A new name for the .1%.

  10. 10
    currants says:

    JR in WV–beautiful. Lived in a place for 18 yrs that had ladyslippers (pink) blooming in the woods every spring. I miss them.

    I love perennial gardening (much more than vegetable gardening)–and although spring is my favorite (today), I also love that every season I can see new possibilities for more beautiful plants in more corners. Sometimes it takes several seasons, or years, for the actual garden to begin to match the idea in my mind (by which time I’ve expanded it in some other direction, usually), but it’s always worth the wait.

  11. 11
    currants says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Hah! Good one. Although it seems early for them this year, have already had several encounters with deer ticks, the .01%.

  12. 12
    WereBear says:

    It’s snowing.

  13. 13
    Poopyman says:

    If your ladyslippers come up you will indeed be lucky. They hate being transplanted, and I can’t recall a success story from the people I know who have tried. Maybe a professional will have better luck.

    @satby: I found one sharing the bed last weekend, and thought that was early for here in MD. Surprised you got them already up there. And I thought the intense cold this winter would have set them back. Seems to have just encouraged them.

  14. 14
    satby says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: perfect!
    And I’m jealous if you have morels. I was thinking about trying to look for them this year, but not anymore. Even with Deet on.

  15. 15
    satby says:

    @Poopyman: yeah, we were planting beach grass to stabilize a dune, and then we went for an impromptu hike; I didn’t bring repellent because mosquitoes aren’t out yet. Forgot about ticks. In all my almost 59 years I’ve escaped first hand acquaintance, so it was a tad traumatic.

  16. 16
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @satby: I get bit at least once, twice per year and think nothing of it. Then last year I got babesiosis. Wow, that wasn’t fun.

  17. 17
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @currants: Yeah, I’ve pulled off more than a few already myself tho their #s do seem lower than past years. Picked up some stuff to spread along the edges between yard and woods to create a barrier but it is supposed to storm like hell tonight and I need a gentle rain after spreading it.

  18. 18
    elmo says:


    I used to live on 10 acres of wooded Tennessee hill country, and spent most summers beating back kudzu, blackberry, honeysuckle and poison ivy. Because the place was entirely private, I used to strip down naked on the front porch before I came in the house, because I would be covered in ticks. Counted up to 60 on me once, little tiny nymph ticks that were almost impossible to see. So the ritual was strip, check, brush off, vigorously scratch out hair, and then the clothes went immediately into the washer and I into the shower.

    I still ended up with a few attached. I’ve had to remove so many ticks from myself that it doesn’t even skeeve me anymore – not much, anyway.

  19. 19
    satby says:

    @Gin & Tonic: @OzarkHillbilly: @elmo: I think it’s the possibility of some random ick disease even more than a bloodsucking insect that skeeves me out, but I’ll adjust. It’s surprising that I never got nailed by them before, I do like to hike in the woods. And I rescue, so fleas and I have been at war forever.

  20. 20
    big ole hound says:

    . @elmo: Back in the 80s in CT I rigged a warm water washdown outside for my bird dogs and me. We found it pretty effective since ticks take a little time to latch on but my dog was one of the first to be diagnosed with Lyme so who knows. She was cured and lived to see 15 and I never got it so maybe it helped me.

  21. 21
    elmo says:

    And on the gardening topic, and sorry for the length:
    Yesterday we had the vet come out and put our ancient foundling German Shepherd to sleep. My wife found him in the woods almost a year ago. The people who lived in the area said that animal control had been out three times, but couldn’t get near him; my wife, with her amazing gift, had him in the car inside a half hour.

    So he came home, matted, filthy, and at about half his normal weight (at intake this adult male German Shepherd weighed 42 pounds). He shied from touch and had to wear a long string hanging from his collar so he could be coaxed out of his crate. Not an ounce of aggression or viciousness in him, just incredibly vulnerable and scared. My wife trimmed his coat down bit by bit, with scissors because he couldn’t stand the trimmer. The vet estimated his age at least 13.

    Slowly he learned trust. At first he would only approach us from behind, with a gentle nudge of his nose on the back of the thigh. Turn around and he’s gone. Slowly, slowly, he accepted petting and affection in small doses. Then he rediscovered stuffy toys. Eventually he allowed himself to be pulled up onto the couch with the people, and from then on he was charming, friendly, affectionate and playful. He loved his girls – we have several other dogs, and he allowed the girls to take all manner of liberties with him. Two little (9 lbs and 6 lbs) terrier mixes could dance on his head, and all he would do is cry in irritation, get up and come to Mama for relief.

    But he was ancient, and it couldn’t last. He started losing weight again rapidly, and his lymph nodes exploded. Lymphoma. He couldn’t get up on his own and had to be carried up the stairs. So when it really looked like he preferred being asleep all the time, we called the vet to make that happen.

    What does this have to do with gardening? I spent yesterday morning digging a grave on the hill beside the house, and made it extra long so we could plant a weeping cherry tree next to him. While I was at the garden center, I also bought a dogwood tree and a nectarine tree, which I will plant today if I can work out yesterday’s stiffness. I love planting trees, but it’s hard work so I don’t do it much – but since I was digging a large hole in any event, I am going to plant trees.

  22. 22
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @satby: If I get any morels this year, it probably won’t be more than a taste, just enough to make me curse the garden. Every spring, if I get out to look for them, it is only for an hour or 2 as I have to get home to prep/till/plant/mulch/water/feed something or other. Almost makes me wonder if having my own veggies year round is worth it or not.

  23. 23

    JR – great narrative and photos! a nice thing to wake up to and I would read anything you wrote!

    To Satby and OzarkHillbilly – next week our mushroom hunting season begins in MI, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for morels.

  24. 24
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @elmo: Sorry for your loss. My first dog was a long haired German Shepard given to me by my oldest sis after she bred her GS bitch. I’d only had him for 2 years when he came down with a very aggressive bone cancer. I cried like a baby when I put him down. Took him out to some public land along the Missouri river and buried him underneath a dogwood along a trail we used to hike all the time.

    One of the sweetest 110 pound lap dogs I’ve ever seen. Not an aggressive bone in his body.

  25. 25
    lurker dean says:

    @elmo: it’s great you could give the foundling such a wonderful last year, and in the future a beautiful tree to rest under. may you have many fond memories.

  26. 26
    greennotGreen says:

    Great and most opportune thread for me since this week I signed a contract for 23 acres in the country: about 8 pasture and the rest woodland. We walked the boundaries yesterday and saw a few wildflowers, but it’s early in the season yet, so who knows what else will be there – maybe morels, maybe trilliums, maybe ginseng. It’s across the road from a wildlife preserve so there will be wildlife (and, unfortunately, hunters on adjacent properties. The state’s definition of “preserve” and mine are two different things.) Anyway, I think any gardening I do will be with natives.

  27. 27
    Currants says:

    Also: Q for anybody who grows asparagus: for how many weeks can I harvest from established plants? (Planted in 2008, moved half of the bed in 2011.)

  28. 28
    The Fat Kate Middleton says:

    @Iowa Old Lady: Don’t recall where you live in Iowa, but the bluebells are blooming madly on our property in east-central IA. We also spotted the aforementioned trillium. The ladyslippers, though, seem to have departed the premises – hoping they make a return.

  29. 29
    The Fat Kate Middleton says:

    @Currants: Re asparagus: botanist husband says until June 18 here in the Midwest. You can also let it go to seed right now, and then harvest later in the summer.

  30. 30
    Violet says:

    Oh, so lovely. Reminds me of the time I spent there. Thanks for the pictures.

  31. 31
    ruemara says:

    So beautiful. It makes me want to walk through there. And then you all started talking about ticks and it went away. Beautiful, nonetheless.

    Sorry for your loss, Elmo. That may have been the best part of his life and it made all the difference. Bless you.

    GreennotGreen, I am totally J. That was a dream of mine since I was 20. May you and the land be happy & bountiful together.

  32. 32
    WaterGirl says:

    @elmo: So sorry your time together was so short, but what a lucky dog he was in his final year. Wiping tears away, big hugs.

  33. 33
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @elmo: My heart hurts for you. They leave such big paw prints on our hearts. I’m sure he’ll enjoy sleeping under his trees, and he had such a wonderful final year of life with you.

  34. 34
    J R in WV says:

    We do have morels here, called molly moochers for some reason. I have somewhere a picture of a little girl with the world’s largest, at least 14-16 inches long. I don’t have the knack of seeing them.

    I knew moving the lady slippers was a long shot, but the ones Mike from the Museum moved have done well. Since we were selling the place, and there was every possibility it would turn into apartments or something, I thought we owed it to them to give some of them a chance.

    Evidently the Lady Slipper family of orchids commonly don’t come up all the time, sometimes for years. My Dad put in a pool by the house while I was away in the Navy (1970ish) which probably changed the pH of the soils down the hill from the house. It was right at the end of a tall ridge, with thin topsoil, big hardwoods (Oak and Hickory mostly) and pine trees.

    The area the Lady Slippers live in was south of the house on the start downhill, before it got steep. I was shocked to find dozens of them one spring maybe around 2000, because when I got back from the Nav in the early 70s they were gone. Evidently they coexist with some fungus that helps them eke out a living in places with low nitrogen and deep leaf litter.

    We moved two each into 3 or 4 places back in 2005 (I think to) so they may be out there lurking. I see nurseries out there that sell them, and have often thought about trying to get some from KY just to see if we could get them going. Neighbor went to walk a future stripmine a while ago, and found yellow Lady Slippers in the devastation zone, so sad.

    There is lots of clearing out of honeysuckle, multi-flora rose, autumn olive, some other invasive plants by Mrs J R mostly. I help pull when she’s got one unearthed but can’t pull it out herself.

    There’s one big honeysuckle above the house we can’t really fool with, it’s on a really steep place you could cross going down, but you would have trouble stopping, let alone working. One nice thing about it is the rich sweet aroma most evenings, they smell so strong at dusk.

    Right now the PawPaw trees are in bloom around the front door, tiny dark little 4-sided bells hanging. And in the evenings coming up the steps by the daffydills right now there’s a strange dark aroma that I think must be the PawPaws. I can’t think what else it may be given where it is. Too early for Honeysuckle.

    The deer give us fits, they’ve eaten hosta and ferns right up to the front door late at night. Lazy rescue dogs sleep right through it. But we love them anyways.

    Glad folks enjoyed seeing the woodland floor! There’s lots more, maybe later. Ferns, swamp lilies, wild flowers I don’t know the name of even, after looking then up in the guide books.

  35. 35
    J R in WV says:

    Forgot to mention, those white flowers with 3 big leaves are Trillium, and the long yellow flowers with mottled leaves are dogtooth violets, aka Trout Lily. Both have done well, we planted tiny roots one spring, they came in plastic bags with a pinch of peat moss, then a couple of years later, there they were, doing OK.

    The trout lilies are in 3 spots, doing very well where the blooming picture was taken, there are at least hundreds. Another spot on the creek bank they’re doing OK but not blooming yet. The third place the dogs lay on them and tney’re barely hanging on.

    There are also a lot of Jack-in-the-Pulpits – which look just like Trillium until they get near blooming.

  36. 36
    smedley the uncertain says:


  37. 37
    satby says:

    @J R in WV: it’s very beautiful and natural, J R. I like gardens that look like everything naturally just came up there, accomplishing that can be hard to pull off.

  38. 38
    satby says:

    @elmo: aww, elmo, so sorry! And thank you and Mrs elmo for giving him a safe and happy last year after what must have been a harrowing time as a stray. He was able to finish happy and loved.

  39. 39
    currants says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Some…umm…what KIND of stuff, one wonders?

  40. 40
    IdahoFlaneuse says:

    @elmo: I am sorry for your loss. However, I am happy that your foundling had a wonderful last year.

  41. 41
    currants says:

    @The Fat Kate Middleton: Huh. Wait–so…when they go to seed, they get tall and all feathery. How do you harvest (or what parts do you eat) after THAT? I’m totally interested! (And since it’s late for this thread, maybe I’ll just go do research on Teh Google.)

  42. 42
    vickijean says:

    Thanks for the pics. I am a native of Hinton transplanted to the Misssipppi Delta where there are no hills, no forests. I have been here 23 years but have not taken root.

  43. 43
    Mohagan says:

    elmo: what a lovely rescue story. The end came far too soon, but you can take comfort in how you made his last year one of love and comfort. And the trees you have picked out are lovely. Every Spring they will bloom and remind you of him playing with his girls and sitting on the couch with you.

    JR – I lived in the hills of Mendocino County (N CA) and we had a North facing slope which bloomed with maidenhair fern and Shooting Stars in the Spring, but my absolute favorite was the Fawn Lilies, which look a lot like the Trout Lilies/Dogtooth Violets you mentioned and pictured. We also had great swaths of them down along the creek. Seeing them always made my heart lift.

  44. 44
    pluky says:

    @elmo: Blessed be, you and yours. By your actions, all are graced.

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