If you enter into any deep, shady forest, you will find that aesthetically, they all have much in common. As typical as the woods at the back of my property or as spectacular as the Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain Forest, you will find what at first appears to be bare ground (which is really a deep mulch of long-accumulated forest duff), occasional leafy patches of undergrowth where a shaft of light reaches the forest floor, deadfall branches and nurse logs, ferns and mosses. The more you observe, the more a pattern emerges: pattern and repetition.
There is much order to Nature.
In a forest clearing or meadow, working forward from the ring of climax trees you will find the forest understory, then shrubs, subshrubs, groundcovers, perennials and bulbs. In the case of a meadow, grasses will grow at the center. In the case of MY clearing, the forest and its understory just stopped…and in the center was some sword fern and patchy salal, but mostly filled with opportunistic weeds and bracken, decades’ worth of deadfall branches, and little else. The clayey hardpan soil is one reason, and the sheer volume of runoff from the woods at the top of the slope as well as the road is another. As I contended with the Mitigation Planner, Nature had fifty-plus years to make a thicket out of the clearing, but didn’t, or could not. The Mitigation Planner tried to make it a thicket anyway, and in doing so made me look super smart.
After relocating the surviving plants and taking stock of soil, hydrology, and site features, I set about mimicking the patterns of nature in BOTH the deep forest and a woodsy clearing. I created planting islands under solitary climax trees and planting peninsulas projecting forward from the forest margin. At the edge of the wetland I added bog plants and plants that thrive in moist soil. And much like the rotting roots, stumps, and nurse logs of the deep forest act as plant incubators, I planted and enhanced those features in my clearing. Instead of planting the entire clearing in the (misguided) hope of filling it in, I have chosen to heavily augment the more appealing features of the clearing while de-emphasizing the lesser. The developing carpets of moss tie these areas together visually, and simulate the patterns of the deep forest in spite of the airy feeling and open sky.
The result in medias res is a greater feeling of structure and order; the clearing feels at once more open and inviting, yet more intimate. Rather than dischord, there is a hush that the sound of birds and insects, the trill and call of small forest creatures–even, at times, the alarming crack of underbrush out of view–enhances. Silence broken in my clearing is somehow more still than silence alone.
If I am influencing nature, am I influencing it to the negative for being partially driven by
aesthetic? That is a question that could as easily be posed to the Mitigation Planner, whose 5-foot offset grid of scrub and thicket plants appeared chaotic and unsettling, even with Nature’s scrub and thicket bordering the wetland forming a backdrop. If I have an agenda to my plantings, more or less than the original plan had an agenda, mine is to emulate Nature as I see it and experience it; if that is an ‘aesthetic,’ so be it.