Woodland Treasures – a Talk by Des Martin
On the first warm day of April, when we should all have probably been tending our gardens, a large number of hardy planters turned up to hear Des talk about the large variety of woodland plants that he grows in his nursery.
Des did not do the normal talk with slideshow but used the plants that he had brought which he passed around the audience.
He went on to say that though many of us will not have woodland conditions in our gardens many of our best hardy perennials have their origins in woodland, and he gave some useful strategies for adapting our gardens to grow some of the plants he had brought.
Shade can be created under pergolas, by walls and under shrubs. Plants can be protected by hedges tall enough to shade from the midday sun. Moisture can be retained with soil improvement.
There are two main groups of woodland plants: North American / European and Asiatic plants. Many of the Asiatics are now coming on to the European market.
The North American / European group are spring ephemerals which show fast growth early on initiated by moisture in the ground so are dependent on winter and spring rainfall: by midsummer the foliage has died back so they need a label to mark where they are but try to-keep the foliage growing as long as possible and the following spring there will be more flowers and foliage.
Examples are: erythroniums, trilliums, hellebores, pulmonarias, and cardamines.
Asiatic woodlanders tend to require reasonable temperatures and a fair amount of moisture but well drained in winter so raised beds are the answer for good-results. Build these about two bricks in height (9cm) and fill with old compost, a newspaper mash, sharp sand, a mix of compost, bark-and coir and a fine bark mulch. These are only now starting into growth so later than the North American types. Some may need a certain pH and low nitrogen feed with trace elements which gives good results,
Des then proceeded to talk about the different examples of woodland plants that he had brought and passed the plants around the audience so that we could all get up close to them and admire the beautiful foliage that needed to be seen at close range and also with the added bonus of some exquisite flowers.
From Oregon was Oxalis oregana with its soft leaves with a purple underside. It grows in the dappled shade of redwood trees but will take some sun and clumps up quickly.
An Asiatic oxalis is Oxalis griffithii 'Snowflake' with plain green leaves and a lovely white flower just showing, slower to grow and needing a raised bed and sun from mid-afternoon only. There are many other oxalis which are being trialled at present.
A lovely corydalis with brick red flowers was next, Corydalis solida 'George Baker' which spreads well once established. This will cope with some sun, dappled shade in leaf and not too much moisture. –
Cardamine glanduligera with loveIy violet flowers in spring appreciates moisture so will have enjoyed last year. It clumps up quickly and most of the foliage has disappeared by June.
Erythroniums are the harbingers of spring and like dappled shade but will take a little sun. Many of us are familiar with E. 'White Beauty' but one of the best is the more vigorous E. tuolumnense with its yellow flowers. Don’t disturb them and they will grow really well in 3-5 years.
Des said a woodland garden is not complete without ferns, they act as accent plants. There are hundreds of ferns that can be used, some are British natives. He showed Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata Angustata' and-Polystichum polyblepharum. These will grow without too much moisture, reaching about three feet high.
Des had two ypsilandras: Y. cavaleriei from the Himalayan countries with strap-like leaves and white fragrant flowers and Y. thibetica with a spatula-like tip to its strappy leaves. These do need moisture or will not survive, especially during the summer and will appreciate extra humus and a low nitrogen feed in spring.
There are some grasses which are woodlanders, eg the wood rush Luzula sylvatica 'Marginata' which has a slight variegation to the leaf edge and is native to the UK / Europe. It grows to 12-15 inches and is good in dry shade and evergreen. Some luzula will seed around but this variety is good in that respect. There is a golden luzula which will bronze up in the sun.
Des only had a few hepaticas to show us but they all had the daintiest flowers. Japanese nurseries are producing many different forms but be warned some can be up to £50 each!
From Romania was a pale mauve Hepatica transsilvanica with soft moss-coloured leaves, a robust variety growing to 30 cms. We also saw a tiny form, H. acutiloba, only six inches high, H. 'ex Garden House' with pink flowers and the bronze leafed H. nobilis 'Rubra Plena' with tiny double pink flowers. All clump up quickly, are better if undisturbed, like dappled shade and need moisture in winter / spring, a mulch and a feed in late winter.
Mitella makinoi is an Asiatic plant from Japan whose common name is Bishop’s Cap. It only grows to the dizzy height of 3-4 inches and its pinky grey flowers are inconspicuous but the foliage is good for ground cover as it is a bronzy pewter colour. It needs some shade and light moisture and is best at the front of a woodland border or around paving. Lastly we were shown an unusual variety of tellima, T. grandiflora 'Forest Flame' which had a more bronzy type leaf.
The talk contained so much useful information on cultivation and how to grow them in the absence of woodland!
First published in the Cambridgeshire & Bedfordshire Group Newsletter Summer 2013
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 34.
© Copyright for this article: Sandra Monk
This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2014. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.