Very little trumps the romanticism of a well-made woodland garden. Lush, informal and unbridled it will capture the heart in its quest to mimic nature. Every spring, plants which might never find themselves partnered in the wild mingle effortlessly in dappled shade, enjoying a fleeting glimpse of the heavens. To my mind the creation of a woodland garden is a much greater test of a gardener’s skill than a formal parterre or herbaceous border. A lack of structure, other than the strong verticals of tree trunks, means a dextrous hand and good eye are required to achieve rhythm and texture within the tapestry of plants. Patience is also a virtue. Many woodlanders such as anemones, trilliums and arisaemas are slow to make impressive clumps; their growing season is, after all, incredible short.
Trillium chloropetalum can take seven years to flower from seed
And then there’s the soil. If I had a pound for every plant that’s catalogue description noted a preference for well-drained, humus-rich soil I might actually be able to able to afford a garden that offered such rarified conditions. A great woodland garden requires the gardener to fashion deep, fertile planting pockets in the gaps between thirsty roots. Leaves blanketing the ground every autumn call for arduous sweeping and raking. The reward is rich leaf-mould, which will fuel the garden for seasons to come.
Epimediums are perfect woodland plants for counties with damp summers
In short, as with most things that look effortless (including ice skating, watercolour painting and Kate Middleton’s hair), woodland gardens take time, expertise and dedication to do well. One of my very favourites is the one at Knightshayes Court in Devon, as accomplished a composition as any great master ever achieved. In the humid West Country climate the verdure extends to every edging stone and fallen branch. And then at Sissinghurst the incomparable Nuttery is both deftly contrived and romantically naturalistic at the same time, guaranteed to make visitors stop in their tracks.
The Nuttery, Sissinghurst, March 2014
On a more intimate scale, but no less accomplished, is the woodland garden at Bosvigo, at its zenith in April (below). We visited early this month on a sunny morning and were fortunate to have the whole place to ourselves. Although not small by our own standards, it covers only half an acre under a canopy of beech and ash trees.
I’m in envy of that large clump of Astelia nervosa ‘Westland’
The scale of the planting is intricate, squeezing in a choice collection of plants without succumbing to bittiness. Certain plant groups abound. Quite apart from the hellebores, for which Bosvigo has become famous, there are large, well-curated collections of epimediums, erythroniums and anemones.
A few of Bosvigo’s beautiful erythroniums (dog’s tooth violets)
Bosvigo’s epimediums range from the diminutive to the exotic; varieties with jagged, red-splashed leaves and wildly spidery flowers such as E. ‘William Stearn’ share the same beds as tiny, delicate souls like Epimedium × youngianum ‘Niveum’. Clumps of peach, pink and white tulips are artfully positioned to bring out the best in the delicate, pastel-coloured flowers and coppery foliage.
Newly emerged epimedium foliage
In stark contrast to all this spring softness were the emerging leaves of an acer, uncompromisingly blood-red yet still frail, translucent and unaccustomed to the sun.
Fiery new acer foliage unfolds
On the fringe of the woodland garden is a steep grass bank peppered with snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris), presided over by a young Magnolia stellata; a dreamy combination for even the smallest meadow space. My own attempts at growing snake’s head fritillaries have been ill-fated, although this year I managed to coax into flower a handful of the white variant between the inky black leaves of Ophiopogon nigrescens.
One is guaranteed to spot something unusual at Bosvigo, usually in the raised borders, which appear to have been hewn from solid rock at the back of the house. I believe the beautiful stranger below to be a podophyllum, probably P. ‘Spotty Dotty’. The umbrella-shaped leaves emerge from the ground in spring with markings like pheasants’ feathers. Mature plants will produce red flowers and fleshy fruits. Again, it’s one of those woodlanders that appreciates rich, moist soil and minimal disturbance. Those unusual leaves are perfect for creating texture and excitement amongst the inevitable bright greens of early spring.
At Bosvigo, owner Wendy Perry has created a garden for all seasons, appealing to connoisseurs and casual gardeners alike. Visitors are welcome from March until the end of September, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 11am until 6pm. Click here for more details and keep an eye out for the dates of Wendy’s special hellebore day in 2015.
Categories: Beautiful Strangers, Bulbs, Cornish Gardens, Flowers, Foliage, Other People's Gardens, Planting Design, Plants
12 comments On "Blooming Bosvigo"
Wonderful pictures 🙂
Love the photos. I’m writing a blog about the Nuttery at Sissinghurst at the moment which will be posted soon. It’s looking very beautiful and I keep rushing down to take more photos! But you’re right about creating a natural tapestry with the plants blending and mingling. Some plants behave very well in this environment whilst others such as Smilacena racemosum have world domination on their mind. Keeping these in check is a challenge! Helen
I shall look forward to that very much Helen. The Nuttery is one of my favourite spots at Sissinghurst, if it’s possible to choose. My favourite plants in there are the veratrums, I love that corrugated foliage, and then the trilliums which take so long to mature but look wonderful when they do.
Yes, I love those two plants too and I think they look even better because of their neighbours. The Nuttery is a real symphony with all the plants creating a perfect whole. I guess that’s the art of good planting. Helen
The nuttery shot is amazing…as is the Japanese maple…divine colours. The concept of woodland planting and composition is totally foreign to me, we don’t have the climate to create this beauty. However we can grow aggies like weeds, so how lucky are we to have so many different growing conditions and experiences to share and enjoy. A wonderful post. So, now I want to understand about nuttery’s and stumpery’s….more research for me! H
Prince Charles has a very famous stumpery at Highgrove – you might want to look that one up Helen. I am looking forward to introducing you to Sissinghurst and all its glories – only 3 weeks to go now! I have a post from my last visit still in draft so must get around to finishing that soon.
Beautifully written with stunning photos, you really are quite annoying (said with love)
Funny, lots of people tell me that 😉 I wish, quite a lot of the time, that I was a bit quicker and more slapdash as it seems to take me ages to get these posts done. I am, however, quite proud of some of those shots, which involved a lot of lying on my tummy on gravel paths. I cannot tell you the strange places I found grit afterwards!!
“Slapdash” is my second name, and believe me it is nothing to strive for. You keep on being considered and precise, they are good things. Glad to hear you suffer for your art, and I thought there was nothing worse than sand in strange places …. 🙂
This is an amazing woodland garden and your images showed it in its whole splendour! I liked what you said about ‘things that look effortless’ – true, although you are being blessed with lots of moisture generally speaking so that should make it a bit easier – not for taking the pictures though 🙂
Oh yes, moisture we can do, especially in Cornwall! I wish I could cram more pictures into these posts as so many don’t quite make the cut 🙂
Lovely photographs! I am always astounded by the beautiful details shown in close-ups. Thank you