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Woodland Gardening

Gardening beneath the green canopy

By now crocus will have warmed the heart with their speckled display and buds will be swelling on the branches of shrubs and trees as sap starts to rise in response to the longer days and higher temperatures.

It is by nature’s contradicting design that as the days get longer, there are parts of the garden that can actually get shadier. As the buds of trees begin to unfurl their leaves, the canopy can obscure the sky from the plants down on the ground. In woodlands all over the country this is most noticeable, although the urban environment of tall buildings provide much the same conditions, albeit all year round.

Plants have adapted to thrive even in these sunlight-starved areas and have certain characteristics to compensate for the lack of sun. Greens get deeper as the amount of chlorophyll (the food making cells in the leaf) increases. Plants spread their branches wider to soak up the little sunlight that’s available. In a garden situation, a shady border is often seen as a disadvantage, something to be avoided at all costs but can in fact, with a little plant knowledge, provide a wonderful opportunity to create cool textures and surprising visual effects.

Green is far from the only colour, either. The red leaves of Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ contrast spectacularly with the grassy, golden tufts of Milium effusum ‘Aureum’. For superb splashes of silver, one can hardly do better than Pulmonaria ‘Opal’, with its blue flowers in early spring. Damp shade can be positively luscious with the bold foliage plants of Rodgersia podophylla and Cimicifuga ‘James Compton’ with its red leaves and creamy flower spikes.

Most gardens have a shady corner and in built up cities, this is ever more so. The good news is, there is a whole group of plants that are only too keen to keep out of the sun.