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Creating Woodland Magic

There is something very special about woodland. To me it feels safe, surrounded by mighty trees and covered by their canopy. Harsh winds are filtered and so is the sunlight on rare hot days. And where the canopy isn’t too full, shafts of light break through as if from the windows of some great cathedral. The trees also deaden sound - so when you are among them there is a stillness and a peace.

These places are precious but according to the Woodland Trust they are few and far between in Northern Ireland. It says the European average for woodland cover is about 46 per cent, but only about 8 per cent of Northern Ireland is woods and we have hardly any ancient woodland at all.

What we do have looks great in spring - primroses and bluebells are among the highlights on the forest floor. While gardeners won’t necessarily be able to create a woodland we can at least create a woodland feel even in small gardens. Deciduous trees and shrubs like Birch, Rowan, Acers and Cornus are perfect for creating dappled shade. In my own garden, I’m trying to plant under some large Leylandii - it’s no mean feat. I’ve trimmed off the lower branches to let light and some moisture in and I’m experimenting to see what plants can tolerate the very dry shade.

Close to the edge of the canopy I have some Snowdrops, ferns and Bluebells. I have planted Acanthus Mollis also known as ‘Bear’s Breeches’ and I’d like to try Helleborus foetidus otherwise and rather unfortunately known as the Stinking hellebore. Further out from the base of the trees the Wood Spurge - Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae is doing well and I might lift and divide it and try some of it in even drier areas.

Wood Anemones, Epimediums and Erythroniums are also plants which I love for their understated elegance. These aren’t the sort of plants which fly off the shelves for their loud colours and long lasting blooms. They’re subtle and their flowering period is short - but for me that makes them precious and they allow me to reference the magic of woodland in my own back garden.