In the mid-2000’s, a blight hit the dozen or so dogwoods in the back yard. Nearly every one died over the next 3 years. I miss them — in the spring the blossoms looked like clouds hovering over the gardens. But their absence meant that the gardens were more open, easier to view. Deep shade became dappled shade.
My goal was to maintain a tamed woodland while adding specimen plants. Each winter I spread a thick layer of pine needles over the newly-cleared gardens. Within a few years, the weed count had dropped dramatically. The pine needles enriched the soil that fed the acid-hungry azaleas and camellias, and they cloaked the gardens in a soft copper that allowed the evergreens and hostas to shine in the growing season instead of disappearing in a tangle of vines and weeds.
The foundation was laid, and I was ready to experiment with new plants.