David Culp’s Layered Garden Includes Black Walnuts!

layeredMore good news for those of us living with Juglans nigra! In his new book The Layered Garden, David Culp describes several genera that he has grown with success beneath these anti-social trees, including:

Smilacina — (Smilacena racemosa — False Solomon’s Sealan interesting perennial with white flowers in spring followed by green/red berries).

Asarum(cute little gingers!)

Aucuba — (Evergreen, Gold Speckles. Reminds me of the upholstery on the couch from my childhood family room, circa 1976. What’s not to love?)

Pulmonaria(I am always reading about how great these are — why don’t I grow them?)

Convallaria(I actually have Lily-of-the-Valley growing under a Silver Maple, which means they will officially grow anywhere.)

Helleborus (Yup, I’ve got these under my Black Walnut, too. Splendid!)

Hosta(It’s harder for me to get excited about Hosta. Probably because I’m only growing the boring green ones. I need to get out my Plant Delights catalog this spring and get my Hosta freak on.)

Disporum —(a little confusion here. One of the common names for this genus is Solomon’s Seal — though the group doesn’t include the common variegated Solomon’s Seal, which is actually Polygonatum. Also, be careful planting Solomon’s Seal and False Solomon’s Seal together, in case they hybridize and then you’re stuck with some sort of weird intermediate form, like Disingenuous Solomon’s Seal or something.)

Sanguinaria — (includes the lovely native ephemeral, Bloodroot. Culp says these “stop traffic” when they bloom in his garden.)

Cimicifuga — (another group that I’ve been meaning to try! Though I believe at least some species are grouped under Actaea now.)

Galanthus —(the bulb with the diminutive white flower. Daffodils do fine with Black Walnuts, too, btw.)

Tricyrtis — (Toad Lilies are FABULOUS, grow them immediately!!!)

I should add that some of the above genera include dozens of different species, so this list actually represents hundreds of potential plants that could live under Juglans nigra!

Actaea 'Brunette' grows beneath a Black Walnut at David Culp's Brandywine Cottage.

Actaea ‘Brunette’ grows beneath a Black Walnut at David Culp’s Brandywine Cottage.

I have to say that I really appreciate when a garden writer doesn’t just dismiss Black Walnut trees out of hand, sticking them on a list titled something like “Trees That Have No Place in the Garden!!!” which I have seen people do, and which strikes me as rude.

Instead, Culp recognizes the difficulty of Black Walnuts, but he decides to work with what he’s been given and makes the best of it. Much like we do with our in-laws and co-workers.

On encountering the stand of Black Walnuts on his property, Culp says:

“Someone else might have cut down these trees and planted something more benign, but I took it as my special challenge to find genera that would live in their vicinity.”

Thanks, David! I will be adding these genera to the Society Page and I look forward to trying out some of them in the spring!

22 thoughts on “David Culp’s Layered Garden Includes Black Walnuts!

  1. I’ve had a frustrating experience with Smilicena racemosa.Tends to flop over, especially when its otherwise beautiful berries are ripening. Have had better luck with S. stellata, which is also a beautiful plant and more compact.

  2. As someone with both black walnuts and in laws, I really appreciated your latest post. Not to mention that I “suggested” to my husband that he might want to buy the Culp book for my Christmas present, so I’m hoping to read more in a few days. Keep up the great work — you’re always a good read.

    • Thank you, LYnley. I have to confess that I went the cheap route and actually snagged the book from the library this time. My garden book buying has been out of control and I need to rein it in. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed Culp’s book — it is gorgeous and the text is instructive and engaging — so I hope it shows up under your tree this year!

  3. I have a fifty year old black walnut that came with the house. Someone saying it doesn’t belong there is not helpful to say the least. One doesn’t just cut down fifty year old trees without a damn good reason.

    I’m surprised about the Smilicena being good under a walnut. They need an acid soil. Juglone is said to change the Ph. Solomon was known for his wisdom. Sophistry is false wisdom. Would false solomon’s seal be sophistical solomon’s seal?

    • Interesting, Deirdre. Culp specifically said that plants requiring acid soil did not thrive in his garden, but yet he listed this Smilicena. I have a long list of acid-loving plants that have died in my garden, including camellia (sniff), pieris, and skimmia. I had blamed the walnut, but now I wonder if it’s just my soil.

      Sophistical Solomon’s Seal — nice one!

      • Smilicena is native here in western Washington state. Lord knows our soil is acid! There’s a false lily of the valley; S. dilatatum, too, if one wants something smaller.

  4. Disingenuous – fabulous! For those with majestic black walnuts – redbud and lindera love it and they are easy to love…use them to step down from the walnut and then pack in these great perennials.

  5. I don’t know any of those companion plants, except the black walnut. And we have a SW cousin, Arizona Walnut…too bad it and some of it’s native valley companions were disallowed on a commercial project I’m designing in our valley, because of a weak plant list. Talk about not working with what you have or could have!

  6. We have three black walnuts in our backyard. I grow most of the plants on that list from the book. I find that native woodland plants tend to grow well under black walnuts. I am in total agreement with you about those people who dismiss this wonderful tree out of hand. They tend to leaf out last allowing more sun for our woodland perennials early in the season and then drop leaves first to give everyone a boost before the end of fall. And they are beautiful stately tree to boot!

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