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Starting a woodland garden on a blank canvas

(8 Posts)
dotty2 Wed 29-Mar-17 14:47:31

We've just had our garden landscaped, and it's now a mix of veg beds, borders, lawn, patio and an area under some mature fruit trees that I want to establish as a woodland garden. My vision (eventually!) for this area is of ground cover of dense, shade loving plants - spring flowering bulbs and perennials, shrubs, ferns etc, with some bark paths snaking through it. But I have no idea how to get there from where I am now.

Before we had the landscaping done, it was very dense with weeds - dandelions, nettles, brambles, borage (?), with a few bluebells and fox gloves thrown in.

The landscapers scraped off the top layer of soil to get rid of the worst of the weeds and replaced with new top soil as part of levelling the whole garden - however, weeds are already starting to show through.

With a whole garden to fill, I don't have a huge amount of money or time to spend on this area now - I want to concentrate on the borders nearer the house to start with.

I didn't want to put membrane down because eventually I hope to have lots of self-seeders and spreading things, and I thought membrane would stop that. So what do I do right now? I thought I could scatter a few packets of the Fothergills woodland wildflower seed mix, and plant a few perennials and shrubs in among. But my DH is a bit of a weed obsessive and thinks we can't sow seed until we've weeded - a huge task already.

I have a friend who's a tree surgeon who can let me have endless chipped trimmings to mulch, but again that won't work with sowing seeds or self seeders. So what do I do right now that will start to get something established in there and keep the weeds down. Should I mulch all over and gradually clear bits as I can to plant/sow seeds.

Mammoth post, thanks v much if you've read this far!

Eatingcheeseontoast Wed 29-Mar-17 15:02:56

There'll be many more knowledgable answers I'm sure - but just to say that artless wildflower meadow look is actually quite hard to manage - particularly if you have weeds coming up already.

I was wondering whether bulbs would be appropriate? Then you could move the grass afterwards to keep it tidy...

shovetheholly Wed 29-Mar-17 15:17:08

I think the first thing is to decide how you both want this to look, and how much time you have to devote to it. Is it going to be naturalistic verging on wild, or is it going to be a more high maintenance garden of more rarified shade perennials (which can look very 'natural' yet involve quite a lot of maintenance in terms of ensuring wild plants don't outcompete them). You have already removed the naturalistic flora that was there - which suggests that you're inclined more to the latter approach? I suspect one of those woodland flower mixes might contain many of the things you just tried to remove, so it might be a bit counterproductive resowing them all?

The second thing is that the area under and orchard and the area under a woodland aren't quite the same. The latter is a shade environment, with a really rich soil. The former tends to be more like a kind of grassland, because fruit trees are usually spaced and pruned to let through some light and to allow air to circulate. If you do a quick google image search on 'orchard' and 'woodland' you'll see exactly what I mean! Working out which of these you have is going to be important to choosing the right plants for the right place!

dotty2 Wed 29-Mar-17 16:55:41

Thanks both. In terms of look, somewhere between completely naturalistic and rarified perennials. Thinking easy perennials like Japanese anemones, the shade loving euphorbia varieties and aquilegia - all these grew freely under trees in our previous garden.

When you say we've removed the naturalistic flora, the previous growth was the result of years and years of neglect - the garden was full of rubbish, some of it buried in the top couple of inches of soil, so there was really nothing to save. It's not an orchard, but 3 large closely planted fruit trees, with large shrubs along the fences giving areas of deep shade.

shovetheholly Wed 29-Mar-17 17:04:54

Gotcha! I understand much better now. In that case, I'd go for easy shade perennials - some suggestions in the thread below - with a mulch around them to suppress weeds while you work on the rest of the garden. You don't necessarily have to dig out all the weeds properly if you're going to mulch - you can do a quick hoe, plant things in, then mulch around them. Bear in mind that under the tree canopy you may have quite dry shade, with potentially wetter shade outside of it (depending on your soil) - so planting needs to reflect that gradient.

www.mumsnet.com/Talk/gardening/2441728-Shady-characters-a-permanent-home-for-shade-garden-suggestions

MrsBertBibby Wed 29-Mar-17 20:12:56

We have some apple trees up the garden, and right now, the "lawn" beneath them is an absolute mass of primrose. It's just arrived there and made itself at home, no effort required on our part. It's the loveliest thing, I really recommend some.

Liara Wed 29-Mar-17 20:27:35

Actually, if you shred relatively fresh trimmings and scatter them, they will in time (not that much time, maybe 6 months) become an excellent growing medium for many plants, and water retentive to boot.

In French they call it BRF (not exactly sure what it stands for).

You could start by putting in some of the shrubs you want and mulching the rest really heavily with shredded trimmings, then when it (and you) are ready you can start to put in the smaller plants.

dotty2 Thu 30-Mar-17 09:26:50

Thank you all - that's good to know. Some good advice here - easy shade perennials, a couple of shrubs and some primroses to spread ready for next year with loads of mulch is now my plan!

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