A photo of Primula Vulgaris Epimedium

Woodland Garden – Planting Tips

The wood is a place of wonderment and learning; teaming with life and yet when we have those challenging, dry but shady sites within our own garden space, we tend to panic. Read some top tips from our Centenary Woodland Garden Designer Gianna Utilini.

Everyone enjoys a leisurely walk through the woods. Looking skywards, we marvel at the force of nature as the vertical tree trunks force their way up to the light. Ferns and bluebells brush against our legs and our anxieties are swept away (until we remember all those fairytales set in mysterious forests)!

The wood is a place of wonderment and learning; teaming with life and yet when we have those challenging, dry but shady sites within our own garden space, we tend to panic. Rather than celebrate and utilise the conditions, we get stuck in a cycle of constantly replacing inappropriate planting.

So, here are some tips to make the most of dry shady spots in the garden:

First, you need to answer some basic questions. Is the shade caused by the canopy of a deciduous tree? If so, there will be a period in late winter/early spring when sunlight is allowed to filter through the naked branches. Therefore shift your attention to an early display of Spring flowering bulbs such as Snowdrops , Bluebells, Species Crocus, early Narcissus. And maybe some early perennials; Primula Vulgaris, Epimedium, Helleborus.

A photo of Helleborus x Hybridis

Secondly, is the site dry because of competing tree roots? You can improve things by mounding and raising  the soil level away from the trunks, incorporating plenty of organic matter which will improve moisture retention and give the plants a fighting chance to develop a root system.

In order to achieve a natural look, go for a walk in the woods though different seasons to see how plants interact and evolve with each other. Note the different contrasts and harmonies that can be achieved with shapes and textures.

Other than the bulbs already mentioned, here is a list of my top 10 woodland plants for a dry, shady spot.

  • Sarcococca
  • Polystichum Setiferum
  • Helleborus Orientalis
  • Euonymus Europeus
  • Gallium Odoratum 
  • Liriope Muscari
  • Geranium macrorrhizum
  • Bergenia cordifolia 
  • Asplenium scolopendrium
  • Pachysandra Green sheen 
A photo of Digitalis Purpurea
A photo of Ferns in Variety

If you haven’t got a natural woodland, plant one! An intimate group of small trees will change the dynamics in any garden. 

Gianna qualified at Capel Manor and has designed an enormous variety of projects. Sustainability and biodiversity have always been her priority. She approaches every planting scheme with the idea of creating a city to provide a habitat for beneficial insects, from the earth moving worm population below ground to the pollinators above and all the scuttling creatures in between. Her aim is to create tranquil spaces that people can nurture and engage with, enjoying nature’s natural wonders.

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Meet the Centenary Garden Team

Ann Aldridge - Part of the Centenary Garden Team

Ann Aldridge

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Caroline Baynes

Angela Eserin - Part of the Centenary Garden Team

Angela Eserin

Trina Golland - Part of the Centenary Garden Team

Trina Golland

Jan North - Part of the Centenary Garden Team

Jan North

Caroline Roberts - Part of the Centenary Garden Team

Caroline Roberts

Fiona Robinson - Part of the Centenary Garden Team

Fiona Robinson

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