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Woodland garden - bulbs and plants ?

a1154a1154 Posts: 1,046
edited August 2020 in Plants
I’m going to be moving and will have a small area of woodland, about 1/3 acre. It has a lot of trees so it’s shady, but not deep shade (not beech or conifers). 
I was just thinking of adding a path and some bulbs and plants. 

I have no experience of shady areas, my current garden is a south facing slope, dry, windy etc and I have done lots of grasses and perennials. I have never been able to grow primroses for example, they just dry out, so I’m looking forward to having those. 

What sort of bulbs would you suggest? I’d like to pick a few and invest in lots of it, but I’m worried about bluebells as I know they are invasive and swamp other things. As it’s bulb time I’d like to get something in soon. 

I’d love to see woodland garden pics.  :)


  • For plants I'd try ferns, helebores, pulmonaria and hostas as well as the native primrose or indeed other varieties of primrose or polyanthus, which all enjoy a shady spot.  If you want a larger shrub you could try some of the hydrangea varieties which are good in dappled shade.  Bulbs could include snowdrops, winter aconites or hardy cyclamen (either hederifolium which are in flower now or cyclamen coum which flower January to March).
  • a1154a1154 Posts: 1,046
    Good ideas on plants. I have a few of those here, so can divide.  Will definitely buy some snowdrops. 
    Have never had a cyclamen survive, so looking forward to that.  
  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 28,837
    There's nothing wrong with "English" blue bells naturalising in woodland.  It's the Spanish kine you need to avoid.

    I suggest you go to your local library and have a read of Beth Chatto's Woodland Garden which covers the planting of a shade garden following opportunities made by trees felled by big storms.  It includes 500 plants that will live happily in woodland shade.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 50,303
    An invasion of English/native bluebells is a delight  :)
    For perennials - Astilbes, Dicentra [it has a new name now] and hardy geraniums are all extremely useful, and are perfect for underplanting with bulbs. Heucheras - especially the brighter ones, are excellent as ground cover in shade. 
    Crocus will also grow in shady spots.
    Better to get snowdrops in the green next spring. They're more viable than buying bulbs in autumn, although you can always do both. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Posts: 7,948
    I agree about native bluebells - lovely and delicate, spread more slowly than you'd like, and don't get in the way of anything else.  Buy them from a reputable supplier and avoid Spanish bluebells like the plague they are!

    For dry shade, which is on the "leeward" side of the trees in my garden, Cyclamen hederifolium does very well, and seeds itself.  Iris foetidissima is lovely too, especially when the seed pods open to reveal bright orange seeds.   :)
    "The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life."  Rabindranath Tagore
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,058
    edited August 2020
    Bluebells have a few weeks of looking quite bad after flowering (lying flat, yellowing) but then they disappear, you could plant things that will shoot up just as the bluebells die down.

    Erythroniums would look rather spectacular naturalised in woodland.

    Re perennials I would make an effort to make it look natural (planting in large drifts). Don't plant too much in year one, live with the space for a season so you understand what will grow well there, for instance Astilbes would be great in moist dappled shade but will not be happy if the soil dries out.

    It's a nice opportunity to have a path leading through natural areas to 'set piece' plantings which have a natural feeling e.g. this mass planting of Dicentra at Trentham (adding some white Dicentra into the mix gives a lovely effect here).

    See the source image
  • Others have posted great suggestions. Also think about foxgloves, they will grow massive in your woodland, mine hit 8ft+ easily. 

    It'll take time but bluebell woodlands look incredible, here's the end of my garden in spring:

  • a1154a1154 Posts: 1,046
    Both pics posted are lovely. I did think all native bluebells hybridise, so Spanish can’t be avoided. Maybe I misunderstood.
    Got plenty hardy geraniums that can come with me. Foxgloves too, I’m at a stage where I take most of them out here. Didn’t know heuchera would go, that’s useful. 
    I will certainly try for large drifts and a natural look. It’s exciting having such a change in growing conditions. 
  • TheGreenManTheGreenMan Posts: 1,629
    a1154 said:
    Didn’t know heuchera would go, that’s useful. 
    Heuchera and Tiarella (Iron Butterfly would look lovely in a woodland area and flowers seemingly most of the year; mine is still going strong) as well as Epimedium (Sunny & Share) which gently spreads along the ground and has lovely little yellow bell flowers from early spring to mid summer; and of course ferns. I have a shady yard with parts that get little to no sun. All of those plants thrive. Perhaps also some Lamium (purple dragon likes shade and bees love it).

    My shady corner:

    Sunny & Share in flower in April (it's tripled in size since I got it in March) 

    Lamium Purple Dragon 

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