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Talking to Gail about her springtime woodland pathway

Early on a misty morning last week, I commandeered our brilliant gardener Gail and asked her all about one of her recent planting projects here – beds running alongside a new pathway to the house, cutting through a densely wooded and wild area. Read on and watch the videos to find out how she’s working with the existing surroundings, adding colour and interest, while maintaining and enhancing the wildlife habitat.

The Planting Design

Last summer Brian took to creating a path from the driveway to the house, using original 19th century bricks that he’d kept after taking down a wall inside the house. It’s a beautiful celebration of the heritage of the house, and something to be proud of, so we couldn’t let it get overgrown with the nettles, ivy, bramble and sumac that surround it. We asked Gail to design some beds that would work with the natural feel of the area but also show off the path.

I first of all asked Gail how she came up with her design for the beds…

As you’ll see from the picture at the top, the path does get some sun for a while in the afternoon, but on the whole it’s a shady spot, with a wall of thick undergrowth and shrubbery flanking it on either side, and trees arching and towering above.

This whole garden has been about working with nature, and enhancing nature where we can.

Wanting to preserve this wild and vital space, whilst pushing it back a little from the path, Gail decided to choose plants that would not only provide colour and a ‘bit of bling’ as you approached the house, but could also hold their own against their vigorous neighbours and tolerate the shade.

The Choice of Plants

In this next video Gail talks about the flowers looking at their best now, in mid-spring…

Providing the colour splashes at the moment are white wood anemones, four types of euphorbia giving lime green and purple, pale blue forget-me-nots, purple-blue grape hyacinths and of course, daffodils for the sunshine yellow.

Grape hyacinth


Forget me nots

Wood anemone

Gail has also cleverly planted honeysuckle at the base of two old elder trees that are arching over the path.

A honeysuckle climbing up an elder.

Trees arching across the path – Jan ’21. Cherry on the left, two elders on the right.

There are many dead and semi-dead trees in the garden, but we don’t want to get rid of them, because they provide structure, and habitat for wildlife.

A piece of useful experience that Gail shares here is that you never quite know how well a plant will grow until you’ve tried it out – some love a spot and thrive and spread out, others are just not so keen and stay small. So a well planned, carefully spaced-out bed can become gappy in some spots, overcrowded in others. Like all best laid plans, you need to expect things to go a little awry here and there, and adapt as the seasons unfold – in this case, once the flowers have died down later in the year, a bit of moving and separating is in order.

Flowering throughout the seasons

Finally, I asked Gail to talk us through what we could expect from the beds throughout the rest of the year.

  1. Geraniums – Lots of different geraniums. Gail calls these ‘doers’ because they are so reliable at bushing out and providing lots of colour.

  2. Pachysandra and euphorbia – Evergreens for winter coverage and interest

  3. Nepeta (cat mint) – will bush out and provide blue colour

  4. Asters, Tuecrium

  5. Helebore – flowers through the winter

Hellebore flowering in December ’20

Creeping into the wild

While we wait to see how all these plants get on this year, we’re also pushing into the wilds a bit – creating a natural path into the densely wooded area next to the brick path. It’s got a real fairy grotto feel to it – a great secret hide as you can see from the picture below!

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