Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Stopping by Woods

As gardeners we can learn so much from the natural rythms all around us.

My cycle route takes me along the river Yar, where a ribbon of deciduous woods flanks the river on one side and the farmland on the other. To the sound of the curlew and sandpiper piping through the woods my attention was caught by the repeated patterns of vegetation mile upon mile.

Young hazels, willow and oaks formed the structure, with just a glimpse of catkin and tight coppery bud waiting to emerge. Ground ivy covered most of the marshy earth and in places reached for the sky, growing up into fallen branches and the taller trees, twining amongst liguana -like honeysuckles. Brackish pools appear randomly amongst the fallen leaves with escaping streams leaching out their precious gift of water into the surrounding vegetation. Whispering rushes guard these, forming an inpenetrable edge to the river. The early morning light washes over their feathery tops, changing tone with the seasons. Endlessly fascinating, wave upon wave as the wind brushes over them.

Clearings with fallen logs invite me to stop and stare - or play like many families do, so that their children can explore the wonder of the quiet glades. What can be more magical in a young child's eyes than tiny woven paths through vegatation, with logs to scramble over and hidden plant treasures peeping out from dark corners?

Stands of the glossy leafed evergreen fern, Asplenium scolopendrium punctuate this with their bold foliage. Strap-like leaves of iris foetidissima form further aysmmetric groupings in the clearings. In design terms we would talk of 'ground cover' and 'architectural specimens'!

The simplicity of this woodland planting can be echoed in our own garden plantings, especially in those wild boundary areas. Why, the endless formal hedge or cuprinol stained fence? A natural planting like this will not only please the eye, but provide home to much wildlife as well. Shade loving ornamentals and bulbs can be added to create further interest if desired.

My joy at this scene is yet to be heightened as I know that concealed and sheltering among the leaves are mile upon mile of primroses and my favourite, the celandines. Come spring they will highlight the path just like cats eyes in a road.

This truly is a lesson in 'less means more'.

© Chris Barnes

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