A Tapestry of Shade-Loving Plants

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is approximately one third of one of the three rectangular raised beds in my woodland garden at the front of my house. It contains a number of shade loving plants that provide a continuously changing tapestry of interest throughout the year. The slideshow above tells you what each of the plants is and its season of interest. Continue reading

Spring bulbs in pots

I chose these bulbs for their fairly monochrome hues which suit the colour scheme of our house. The narcissi are small, scented, delicate flowered varieties. I had hoped to display the black and white tulips at the same time, but their flowering did not overlap – Queen of Night opening a full week after Purissima had finished.

Having grown them in the cold greenhouse overwinter they were free of weather damage, and had a pleasing architectural quality to their growth. As each pot came into flower they were brought into the house, where they provided weeks of pleasure and fragrance. Indoors, the higher temperature accelerated their blossoming, so as each showed signs of going over they were moved outside by the front door, where the cool March weather brought their progress back to a crawl. Some of them look as if they will continue for a couple more weeks.

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.

ID Parade

Can you identify these three apples?
A. (left) 129 g. Sweet, fruity, aromatic, mildly acidic.
B. (centre) 213 g. Sweet, floral, crisp, well balanced acidity.
C. (right) 165 g. Honey-sweet, aromatic, crunchy, tangy, fruity bouquet.

It has been a very good season for apples in my garden this year. I train my fruit trees as espaliers and cordons so do not get vast numbers – which is good – but I do get good plently of good quality fruits, and this year some were very large. As you can see above I collected three of the largest specimens for comparison, the smallest variety being 7cm across, the largest 9cm.

I’m pretty sure about variety A and B, but if C is the variety claimed on the label then it should only be 5 – 6 cm diameter. Or perhaps I have just grown the largest examples known! 

So, can you identify the three varieties above?

Answers on a post card please (or perhaps it would be quicker just to leave a comment below?)

The Green Roof – in June

Here is a view across part of the green roof, showing how far it has come on since my last Green Roof update. The plants have become establishes, and I have added many new plants which are all thriving in just 7 to 13cm of soil, with only occasional watering – once or twice per month – to help them through their first year.

The secret of success in these situations is to choose plants that grow naturally in hot, dry, exposed situations. In the above picture, middle, foreground you can see  Lampranthus cooperi – a half-hardy Mesembryanthemum relative with succulent foliage and bright magenta daisy flowers (which are closed up in the photo). It loves these conditions, although it may struggle to make it through a wet British winter – we will see.

The seed heads here are from the Muscari bulbs that finished a while ago. Top left is a new addition –Dianthus deltoides ‘flashing lights’ – many small dark red flowers over dense dark green (almost black) foliage. In the bottom right corner you can see some crimson stonecrop (Sedum spurium ‘Coccineum’)

Here, biting stonecrop (Sedum acre) is colonising a bare patch of gravely soil. Small fragments dislodged by birds probably, have rooted and started to grow. The main clumps are about to come into flower.

Dianthus ‘Flashing lights’, surrounded by the grey blades of Festuca glauca.

The pink lollipop flowers of thrift do so well in this situation – flowering for weeks on end. The grass to the left is Ponytail grass (stipa tenuissima) with very fine tall blades, held upright, but not stiffly, catching the slightest breeze. The inflorescence is equally delicate, transparent, like a veil.

An experiment that is proving highly successful: On the left – a fern polypodium vulgare, and on the left, golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummulariaAurea‘). Both of these plants tend to be associated with damp shade, but both are just fine in the extreme conditions of the roof-garden it seems. I have seen our native polypody fern as an epiphyte on old oak trees in Devon, colonising dry stone walls in Wales, and covering the top of the high stone walls of the ruined Abbey at Winchelsea – exposed, dry and sun-baked. So I shouldn’t be surprised to see the five clumps on my green roof putting out new fronds quite happily.

Three recently added plants, left to right: Silver shamrock (Oxalis adenophylla) – blue-green pleated foliage and transparent pink flowers in May; Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’ silver-grey succulent clumps; A red Houseleek (Sempervivum var.) – which is spreading rapidly – it likes the sun and exposed aspect.

Late spring flowers for dappled shade

oodland gardens are often spring events, as many plants scramble to flower and set seed in the brief window of opportunity before the overhead leaves close the canopy. For the woodland gardener then, the challenge is to find plants that extend this all-too-brief season and provide a succession of interest further into the year. One of the tricks is to plant hedgerow flowers along the brighter woodland edges. Here are some of my early late spring and early summer woodland stars…

1. Alpine columbine (Aqueligia alpina var.) In my woodland garden columbines provide the last big flushes of colour in May and June. This delicate alpine variety has such an intricate bonnet that it startles visitors even when faced with the competition from its far bolder, but coarser common relative a. vulgaris.

2. Hattie’s pincushion (Astrantia major)  I grow this at the edge of the woodland, where it gets quite a lot of midday sun. Its distinctive flowers with their papery bracts make good cut flowers, and if given the ‘Chelsea chop’ in late may, reward one with a second flush a couple of months later.

3. Snowy woodrush (Luzula nivea) Looking at the photo above, you would never guess that these were the flowers of a grass! OK, I know Luzula species are woodrushes not true grasses, but even so when they are at their best like this they put on quite a show. They are easy to grow, seeming to enjoy shade in any soil. Their seed heads have a rather drab grey cast which make me reach for the secateurs. Although they are evergreen the fine green foliage can become tatty, so late in the year I cut them back, foliage and all, to a neat stumpy mound, from which new leaves emerges quite happily the following spring. Overall: a great British native which lends that naturalistic air that only grassy things can do but with significant flowers! Try it if you think you can accommodate it. (Apparently there is a golden foliage form!)

4. Siberian iris (Iris sibirica blue form) Iris sibirica seems to cope with more shade than many irises (except of course our native gladdon which manages in really deep shade). I have two varieties, the one pictured here managing at the foot of the mature cherry tree, where dappled sunlight is minimal and the shade perhaps 90%. It flowers in May and early June, for a fleeting two or three weeks – but what a sight! The foliage is worthy of mention – emerging late in April, it is initially fresh green and upright, rising almost straight up from the ground. The flowering stems carrying one, two, three or more (up to six?) promising buds, which are beautiful even before they open. The seed heads that follow are worthy of attention and help make up for the all too brief flowering period.

5. Spotted dead-nettle (Lamium maculatum ‘Beacon Silver’) These deep pink, lipped flowers are typical of the labiataes (mint family), however, they are quite small and close to the ground, so you need to get down to their level to really admire them. Their foliage is silvery and the plant spreads gradually to create a handsome groundcover around the base of taller plants. It’s weedy origins provide it naturalistic charm whilst its variegated foliage raise it to garden worthiness.

6. White foxglove (Digitalis purpurea alba) There are few people, surely, who would argue that this is not the loveliest form of our wild foxglove? Unlike the overblown hybrids it retains the delicate charms of its wild cousin, chief of which is its asymmetric spire with flowers hanging predominantly from one side. Also, unlike many foxglove cultivars, it comes true from seed – so once established it is likely to stay with you for some time. White foxglove demonstrates an interesting observation which seems to be true of many plants: its colouring extends to other parts of the plant, so even the foliage has a grey-white blush to it, unlike the common purple foxglove which has redder hints in the leaves.

7. Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) I have not confirmed the identity of this plant. It has appeared on its own in two places in my woodland garden. I assume it is the native wood spurge, as that grows in these parts, prolifically for example, in the woods at Chichester harbour. Its benefits are a strong constitution, evergreen foliage and plenty of yellow-green flowers which shine in the shade, lighting up the bed. What a welcome freebie!

8. Hedge cranesbill (Geranium pyrenaicum) is a naturalised UK resident, superficially similar to our wild Herb Robert  (G. robertianum) with sprawling stems and sparse leaves and tiny mauve flowers that open in succession from bunched buds. Unlike Herb robert, Hedge cranesbill is perennial and more floriferous, which is useful, but it is also somewhat unrefined, which isn’t. Now I have thought about it, I’m not sure I really like it – I’d rather have real Herb robbert – on the other hand it does provide hazy flowers for minimal ground space and effort!

9. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a low growing (15cm) British native, vigorously colonising, semi evergreen carpeting perennial, with pointed leaves in whorls around upright stems. In May it creates a sea of foaming white flowers individually tiny, but numerous. One problem with woodruff is its enthusiasm for spreading as it advances its carpet a couple of feet each year by underground runners, swamping smaller plants and dominating the overall composition. I pull swathes of it up to control it several times a year. It  springs back, unharmed, but at least its rampage is partially checked – You have been warned! That said, I have seen it looking very charming in willow planters with pansies and spring bulbs – pretty, naturalistic, and importantly: trapped!

10. Red campion (silene dioica) another British perennial, suitable for naturalistic gardening, beloved of insects and quite late flowering, even in shade. Its flowers have a good strong pink that brings much-needed colour into the woodland composition mid-summer. It has two weaknesses for me, that make me treat it brutally: first, I find it can be a magnet for blackfly some years and they go for the buds , which spoils it rather. (At such times I cut it back hard and the second flush of flowers may escape infestation). Secondly it is surprisingly vigorous – far more so than in the wild – and can easily grow to 1m tall, by nearly as much across. I just pull it out or cut it back to suit the garden composition as a whole.