Once in a pink moon is how often I seem to post lately. But I am still here my friends, working ever more obsessively in the garden. But I cannot let spring slip through my fingers without writing about some of the choicest of spring floral treasures which are the woodland flowers which do their stuff before the canopy of leaves blocks out the sun. However dedicated we are we cannot create anything as beautiful as nature lays out for us every year in the remnants of ancient woodlands. I grow wood anemones of course, but I cannot produce anything as startlingly beautiful as this. Carpets of wood anemones like this one are indicators of ancient woodland.
Bluebells are another indicator of ancient woodlands. Here in the UK we are particularly proud of our bluebell woods and justly so; we have 50% of the world’s population of bluebells. A walk through the woods in April is an unforgettable sensory experience, the whole woodland floor is shimmering, misty blue and the delicate fragrance fills the air. It is not surprising that bluebell woods were considered the domain of fairies.
And here and there if you know where to look for them are little pools of Early Purple Orchids. Add to the mixture swathes of white wild garlic and stitchwort, the yellow of celandines and patches of wood spurge and you have pictures that no gardener can hope to emulate.
Readers of my blog will know that I have been busy with new projects in the last months. At last I can show you one of these projects which is the creation of a new woodland garden. There were plenty of trees here and cow parsley and brambles underneath, along with self seeded elders, oh, and nettles, lots of nettles. It always looked untidy and messy.
I had the tree surgeon come to clear all the trees and lower the hedge right down so that we have a view of the countryside.
When he had finished we realised we had been missing the blaze of autumn colour of the wild cherry trees in the little nearby wood.
And now of course they are a froth of blossom. It’s a pity about the neighbour’s poly tunnel but apart from that we have a lovely borrowed landscape. Instead of nettles I now have a lawn with tulips.
But back to my woodland garden; I have kept two huge horse chestnuts, an oak and a large field maple and had all the lower branches removed. I got rid of quite a few pine trees but kept a few as their tall straight trunks give a cathedral- like feel and their fallen needles provide an acid soil for azaleas.
In other new parts of the garden I simply put a membrane down and covered it with wood chips to avoid the tedious job of clearing away the weeds first. But here in my woodland I want plants to seed and make carpets so I have had to clear it by hand. Oh dear, I don’t think I will do it again. Cow parsley has long tap roots and if you break them they simply regrow. Also the ground is full of seeds just waiting to go so I have to hoe regularly. It has been a painstakingly laborious task and makes me think nostalgically of Roundup. I have made a wood chip path to wind through the little woodland garden and now I just need to wait for a few centuries for it to establish. Here is the work in progress.
And here is the finished path.
The beds look very bare but I have started planting; luckily I have lots of woodland plants in other parts of the garden so I have moved them here. I am going to have a wait for it to look well established but at least I have made a start.
I have a variety of different wood anemones; some are double, others are pink, blue or palest yellow.
I don’t have any native bluebells in my woodland but I have plenty of chunky Spanish interlopers which are everywhere and I have given up the impossible task of trying to get rid of them. I can at least stop some of them going to seed by picking big bunches for the table.
Of course I am not restricting my palette to native woodlanders because the North American treasures are particularly delightful. I love trilliums and I have a particularly fine clump which has travelled around with me and delights me every spring.
Also from America, I have the delightful double Sanguinaria ‘Flore Pleno’ which blooms and then disappears completely until the following year.
Another North American woodlander which I fell for is the dainty Anemonella thalictroides which is a bit like a wood anemone but perhaps even prettier with bronze-tinted leaves.
Unfortunately, the Vicar has run out of snakes’ head fritillaries to graze on and he decide he’d like to try these as a change. He doesn’t actually eat them, just tosses the heads about. I think such an ecclesiastical-looking gentleman should behave with more dignity.
The erythroniums are not native here either but no self-respecting woodland garden can be without them. And they seed around if they are happy. They are so beautiful with their recurved petals.
From China we have epimediums which soon spread into carpets. You have to remember to remove their leaves in winter or the delicate flowers will be hidden. ‘Pink Elf’ is still sitting in the gravel round the pond but when we get some rain I shall move it to its new home. In fact the lack of rain has rather brought planting to a halt which is a shame just as we are now vaccinated and feeling that perhaps it is safe to put our noses out of the door and go on nursery trawls.
I have put quite a few tulips on the sunny edges of the woodland garden but I am absolutely besotted by the woodland tulip Tulipa sylvestris which has fragrant blooms and is happy in light shade.
I have also planted some little clumps of small narcissi but my absolute favourite which I have put at the entrance to the woodland is the diminutive, but perfectly formed Narcissus ‘Segovia.’
I could go on, I haven’t even mentioned the primroses which I have a special passion for and of course are an essential ingredients of the woodland garden but this is getting rather long so we can come back to it another day.
But before I go, whilst I am I indulging my fantasies of woodland gardens, I must show you my one blue poppy, a recent purchase which is sheer self-indulgence. I know it is hopeless to try and grow blue poppies here in Suffolk as it is far too dry, but just for this year I can enjoy this solitary Meconopsis ‘Branklyn’ and if I squint at it I can imagine a whole sea of exquisite blue poppies, just as I have to squint at the moment to see carpets of wood anemones and other treasures in my new woodland garden. But give me a year or two.