Many of us have taken refuge in our gardens in recent months, and these enforced periods of isolation have given even the most experienced and productive of gardeners the opportunity to tackle those longstanding projects that we’ve never got around to. Friend of Fieldcrest and co-ordinator of Caldy Open Gardens Rachel Summers tells us what she’s been working on in her own garden:

A Woodland Walk in the Making

It all started with Tony, my husband, declaring the bottom of the garden looked a real mess! It’s a wildlife haven, I countered. At any rate, with three quarters of an acre of garden with large, mixed borders, two bog gardens, a silver birch grove, a grasses bed, a herb garden, not forgetting a living willow tunnel, and with no outside help to speak of, the thought of tackling what was in reality a jungle, has been unthinkable. Until lockdown, that is.

In mid March 2020, we surveyed the area: 12 metres deep x 40 meters wide. The mature trees, mainly sycamores and conifers, are interspersed with much younger self-seeded oaks, ash, hazel, holly and hawthorn. Under the canopy was a jungle of brambles, wild honeysuckle that never flowered, ivy and nettles. We hadn’t set foot in it for years.

With time on our hands, we set to work. Tony invested in a petrol brush cutter which cuts like a knife through butter, or in this case, through everything right to the soil. We took the brambles and honeysuckle right down to the ground, with a view to total eradication over time. We cleared a winding path through the ivy and left a patch of nettles for the butterflies and bees. With a framework in place, the planting could begin.

Alongside the path, we put in a variety of different ferns: the choice is endless and they look stunning in the woodland setting. To break up the sea of greens and add seasonal interest, we planted epimediums with their pale yellow flowers in spring, purple foxgloves at their best in May-June, white wood aster (aster divaricatus) flowering in late summer, with lords-and-ladies (arum maculatum) & stinking iris (iris-foetidissima) providing bright orangey red berries from autumn through winter. When clearing the ground, we uncovered purple wild violets, bronze leaf lesser celandine (Brazen Hussy) with its yellow cups in early spring and herb-Robert with its mass of pale pink summer flowers. No doubt, we will add more plants as time goes on, and more wild flowers will move into the newly cleared space.

We’ve made log piles, bug & bee hide-outs, and after spotting some hedgehog droppings, I’m minded to try my hand at building a hog house.

What has been totally unexpected and very rewarding is the woodland’s tranquillity. In contrast, to a certain showiness in the rest of the garden, the woodland planting is very subtle. The plants don’t proclaim their appeal, but are appreciated by spending time close to them.

I discovered this when sitting on a log I’d dragged into the wood. It’s so low that your line of vision is actually through the ferns with the foxgloves towering overhead. Already, it’s a favourite spot of mine to sit, listen to the birdsong and let my gaze alight on tiny gems nestling in the undergrowth. It’s made me realise that in this part of the garden, Nature is and will continue to be the guiding light, not me. To add to my pleasure is the realisation that I’d not spent time in this part of the garden since I was a small child, about 60 years ago, climbing the long-gone elms. My parents built the house and created the garden in the late 50s, and I took over the property in 2009, returning to my childhood roots.

But the project’s not finished yet. Spending time at the bottom of the garden, I’ve come to appreciate that the woodland edge, with its open aspect and dappled sunshine, is a totally different world with a myriad of planting opportunities. Gone are the days of the lone bluebell or occasional red campion, now it’s fast becoming a sea of different colours, as we work on phase 2 of our woodland walk. But then as keen gardeners, we know the garden is never finished.

You can see below a few photos of some of the showier parts of our garden where my ideas have led the way, with Nature deciding whether to comply or not. I’m a firm believer in ‘right plant, right place’, and being on heavy clay, with frequent standing water in a wet winter, I select robust trees and herbaceous perennials that can withstand these conditions. I also enjoy different parts of the garden having different focuses, yet linking via colour, form or whatever. I find deciding what will look good where is challenging, but thankfully, I can always change my mind and move things around. Nothing in a garden is set in stone, it’s always evolving.

Rachel Summers, Co-ordinator of Caldy Open Gardens, our next event being on Sunday, 23 May 2021, 1pm – 5.30pm

14 June 2020