Spring arrives in the woodland garden…

The snowdrops have been showing for more than a week, but today – (Feb 17th) – the watery sunshine is making the air throb…

The fine bunched fingers of snowdrop foliage, lush blue-green, chime with the hellebores’ apple-blossom-blushes.

Evergreen fronds of Korean rock fern (Polystichum tsussimense) provide a contrasting lacy stiffness ~ they always fit in here. Nearby, variegated arum lily and cyclamen create a tapestry of winter foliage that will die back before the summer. Jostling them, vibrant green Narcissus buds, fit to burst, threaten a change of tempo. They’ll shake up the colour pallet and give the whole scene a second life…

…but that’s a few days away.

Ten ways to plug the August gap

The result of some late summer TLCBelow I’ll show you ten tricks that refreshed my woodland garden and transformed the drab late-summer muddle of seed heads and dying foliage into a crisp, minimalist space, calm and stylish…

By late August many of the plants that have provided colour throughout the spring and summer have finished, and their seed heads are brown, their leaves tatty: The garden looks tired and uninspiring. It generally stays that way until the autumn tidy-up. This ‘August Gap’ is particularly notable in the shade garden as most woodland plants flower in the spring before the canopy closes and light levels fall. There are very few shade plants that flower in autumn. Continue reading

Experimental deep field

Playing around with the depth of focus on my camera, then layering the images in sequence produced these rather dreamy effects…

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The human eye changes focus quickly as we move through a garden. These images slow down that unconscious motion, as if we are seeing ourselves seeing…

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Lady’s Bed Straw, London Pride and Corsican Violet in the Woodland Garden.

Incidents & accidents

Many plants self-seed in the woodland garden – a sign that they feel sufficiently at home to start a family. They often pop up in surprising places – perhaps inconvenient and needing to be pulled out, but often they choose a spot with considerable charm that could not have been devised. Along with these happy accidents I am increasingly seeing hybrids appear – not only are plants reproducing but they are interbreeding and creating new forms – very exciting! Finally there are the all-new arrivals – plants that have somehow mysteriously found their own way here. I’m not referring to the inevitable weeds but woodland plants that are actually rather beautiful and garden worthy.

Hybrid (false) Oxlip

This lovely butter-yellow hybrid appeared in a corner of a bed, tucked under the box hedging.

It is almost certainly a false Oxlip, the offspring of our native cowslip and primrose – both of which I grow in the garden.

From its primrose parent it has inherited the large flowers whilst its tall stems and rich colouring with the darker orange eye comes from the cowslip.

If it had been a commercial Primula sold in a punnet at the garden centre I wouldn’t have given it a second glance, but as it has arrived unbidden I treasure it. Wouldn’t you?

Red Primula

I was very surprised when this little self-sown seedling’s flowers opened, as I had not grown any primroses with red flowers before. Where had it come from?

Perhaps it got its genes from the deep blue primroses I planted as bedding to fill gaps last year, or perhaps a bee brought pollen from another garden. Who knows!

Unlike the commercial primrose hybrids its colouring is a little less brash – the red is a crushed strawberry – but to my eye it has a naturalness that makes it very welcome here.

Silver bells (Ornithogalum nutans ?)

 Where these came from I do not know. I didn’t plant them that’s for sure! But they are delicate in their sombre white and grey-green tones, and of all the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ bulb family one of the most naturalistic to my eye.

 They only throw up two or three flower spikes each year, but I always make a point of noticing them tucked away next to the far more showy oriental hellebores.

I think they would prefer a little more sun than they get in this corner and I suspect they are gradually fading away. C’est la vie!

Wood spurge (Euphorbia amagdyloides)

This native wood spurge can be seen growing in woodlands a few miles from here. Somehow its seeds arrived and planted themselves in a great spot in one of the woodland beds last year, at the foot of one of the blueberry bushes. Coincidently, I planted the garden variety E. a ‘Rubra’, which has distinct purple leaves, at the same time. Perhaps they will hybridise…

It has grown into a strong clump of twenty stems over 2′ (60cm) tall in just one year. The mass of flowers this year is considerable.

The photo shows it in early April before the lime green flowers have opened, but while it still has the distinctive red-brown tones in the stem and leaves. It’s strong upright unfurling growth is somehow both dramatic and subdued.

Raised beds

Raised beds do not need to be simple rectangles!

Raised beds
I use raised beds in many parts of the gardens here at Rosemary Cottage. They serve both practical and aesthetic functions, and when designed well with good materials they are relatively quick to construct, durable and easy to maintain or even dismantle if a complete re-design should ever be wanted.

Neat rows of lettuce and salad leaves.

Why use raised beds?
Raised beds give definition to a growing area, outlining the bed and frame the plants. In winter they can give stucture to the garden even when the soil is bare. On a more practical note, you can work them without walking on them – good for the soil and good for keeping your boots clean. Tall sides help prevent soil from spreading onto the path when you dig. The soil in raised beds is often raised above the surrounding ground level, improving drainage and bringing the plants closer to the eye. This in turn reduces the amount of bending needed when working. Deep beds do not need to be filled to the brim with soil, however, as there are benefits to leaving a good space between the soil and top of the boards so you can add compost, mulch or manure, without it tumbling onto the paths. In my vegetable garden this gap is enough to allow young seedlings to develop with shelter from the wind, and I have made a number of netted ‘lids’ which lie across the top of the beds to protect young plants and keeping cats and birds off.

Raised beds can prevent soil spreading onto paths when digging.

A final and important aspect of raised beds is that they help you organise maintenance into manageable chunks. Weeding, tidying or clearing a single bed provides a clear start and end point.

Planning for paths
In my gardens raised beds double as path edging. I like dry-laid, permeable hard landscaping, because it is quicker and less messy to lay, can be lifted and relaid or repaired easily, and drains freely. Raised beds with paths is therefore a great combination providing design flexibility and simple DIY practicality. It can look very good too. Compacted gravel can provide an ideal path in this situation as it is cheap and easily fills any shaped gap between beds. Dry-laid bricks or paviors look great, but are more expensive, and you may have to do a lot of cuttingto fit uneven gaps between beds.

Brick paviors dry-laid between oak raised beds in the Woodland Garden

Gladdon the Heart

Extraordinary colouration, vivid markings and the complex orchid-like form of the Gladdon (Iris foetidissima) can stop you in your tracks when you come upon it like this.

Amazingly, despite the Gladdon being a common British wild-flower, many people have never seen one, or have passed it over without the close scrutiny it deserves. It tends to grow in undergrowth, and its dark  evergreen leaves can be easily overlooked, then when it does flower, the display lasts only a few days.

There seem to be significant variations in the flower colour, with the more common being a blue rather than yellow base, although both have the brown and biscuit markings.