Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 01 May 2015 by Tim Ingram
A Woodland Miscellany
Good luck to dem w'at come and go,
W'at set in de shade er de sycamo'
(J. C. Harris)
A garden is no woodland but it can head in that direction. Woodlands naturally develop a richness and diversity of species, and a stability, which makes them places of enduring interest. Gardens - especially plantsman's gardens - can be just the same in the way that they develop different areas suitable for different plants. At the same time the woodland garden takes the longest of all plantings to develop because it can't really be designed in the way gardens are often made, but emerges as trees and shrubs develop and understorey plants self-seed and succeed one another. Possibly one of the greatest appeals of this type of gardening is how it allows the more formal and open areas around the house to merge into more natural and wilder plantings, even if you don't have the good fortune of real woodland just beyond the boundary of the garden. It still takes a good bit of 'gardening' if not to become truly wild(!) but self-seeding species like Tellima grandiflora, Myrrhis odorata and Brunnera macrophylla, as here in our garden, fill the ground effectively after the earlier display of snowdrops and hellebores (compare with the earlier pictures I have shown).
The small Magnolia in the picture below is 'Susan', a richly coloured hybrid between M. liliiflora 'Nigra' and M. stellata 'Rosea' raised in the USA, and best in a more continental climate with warmer summers (there is a superb picture of this in 'Magnolias - A Gardener's Guide', by Jim Gardiner). The golden leaved ornamental rubus takes the place of bramble and needs as much containing but does light the bed up early in the year.
Elsewhere hellebores grow with the cow parsley 'Ravens Wing' and geraniums, along with Lilium martagon and Fritillaria thunbergii. This part of the garden often gets very dry and sad looking in high summer - and we have had very little rain this April either - but most of these plants have the capacity to tolerate this by deep questing root systems or by becoming dormant earlier or later dependant on conditions, and re-emerge the following spring looking just as fresh.
Erythroniums look especially good at the moment and this is a genus which grows on you just in the way that other choice woodlanders such as Trillium and Epimedium do, and all can lift the woodland garden into something very special. This pairing, which I showed last year too, is E. 'Joanna' and Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty' surrounded by the leaves of snowdrops now beginning to die down.
The way that these plants combine is the most appealing aspect of all, whether very naturally as in the first picture I showed or in a more contrived way as in this dusky scene with the celandine 'Brazen Hussey', 'Bowles' Golden Grass (Melica effusum 'Aureum'), and a dark double hellebore.
Or more simply with Trillium kurabayashii surrounded by the young leaves of an epimedium.
(... to be continued after the East Anglia AGS Show tomorrow!)