Louise Curley

12 Apr 2021 15:47

Woodland Border

Woodland Plants

by Louise Curley

The back section of my garden faces north and when we moved here there was a mature silver birch tree, three large rhododendrons and a huge lilac in this spot. Unfortunately there was also a leylandii hedge that was 4.5m (15ft) high and ran along the back of the garden. The hedge had got too tall to maintain properly, was brown on our side and it made the back of the garden feel very gloomy, so it had to go. There was a hotchpotch of other plants too but these all felt rather random and few seemed to be thriving. I didn’t want to lose the height, privacy and maturity of the main trees and shrubs, and because these cast this part of the garden into shade in summer it made sense to make this a more established and coherent woodland-style border.



Photo: Louise Curley


A tree surgeon removed the hedge and reduced the height of the birch and the lilac, and I raised the canopy of the rhododendrons to show off their attractive moss-covered trunks. We replaced the old, rotten fence with a new one and painted it a dark grey so that it recedes into the background, helping to make the garden feel longer.

The soil in this section is heavy clay and because the winters here are very wet there’ll often be standing water in this part of the garden for several days. Finding plants that will thrive here is really a case of trying something and seeing how it does. I’m gradually learning which plants are happy there and focussing on growing more of those; plants such as snake’s head fritillaries which are a native wildflower that grows in water meadows – fields which flood in winter. They’re one of my favourite flowers, even more so now that I’ve discovered that they seem very happy growing in my garden where the conditions they experience are similar to those in the wild.


Wood anemones and ferns in my woodland border

Photo: Louise Curley


Woodland plants generally flower in spring before the leaf canopy of the trees above them unfurls and blocks the sunlight. For early interest and colour I’ve planted hellebores, snowdrops and dainty daffodils such as ‘Rip van Winkle’. There are wild primroses too. These are followed by the tiny flowers of several different epimediums, which are planted around the base of the trees and shrubs where the soil is drier. For foliage there are lots of ferns and tiarellas, and a couple of clematis have been planted to scramble up through the shrubs.

I assumed that this part of the garden would just become a lush green space come summer, but I’ve also discovered some plants that will flower between July and September. The Himalayan cowslip is a stately plant with surprisingly tall stems for a member of the primula family (they grow up to 1.2m/4ft) which are topped with clusters of pale yellow, scented flowers. Kirengeshoma palmata is a lovely Japanese woodland plant that produces bell-shaped, yellow flowers in August and Viola cornuta makes pretty groundcover at the edge of a woodland border where it’ll bloom for several months.

Often shady borders are seen as second best to the sun-drenched parts of the garden but with a bit of research and planning they can be just as interesting and plant-filled.



Photo: Louise Curley