For this week’s Six on Saturday am going to focus on what could be both a blessing and a challenge: gardening under trees. In my garden, that is what I do. Big mature trees of lime, hornbeam and oak rise up from behind our walls, a bank of green laden with leaves and seed.
The trees give the garden its special character, a green cocoon in a busy world, an air of secrecy and serenity. They also create a wonderful home for wildlife: birds including woodpeckers and jays, red squirrels, stag beetles (an endangered species here) and of course many kinds of insects.
Microbiologists say that the microbiome under a tree canopy is especially rich in beneficial microbes. We breathe them in and give them a home to inside our bodies, and in return they keep us healthy and even calm our anxieties according to the latest scientific research. Other benefits include copious harvests of organic matter – some useful, like the leaves I turn into leaf mould, others maybe less so, like the lime seeds that tumble down in their zillions:
Then again, I have an unusual French recipe book called La Cuisine des Arbres that has a recipe for falafels made with the inner seeds of these little round fruits. Could they be the most labour-intensive falafels ever thought up?
In high summer, the canopy is denser and the light filtered though is weaker, so this means bringing things that need brighter light out into the open clearing of the lawn, like these salad and winter veg seedlings sown at the end of July.
On the walls the climbers reach up towards the light but also bask in the retained heat of a south-facing brick wall. At this time of year the trumpet vine flowers – a plant I have not yet fully come to terms with because of its bid to takeover this corner of the garden, sending up suckers throughout the glade and even through the gaps in the decking on the terrace! You might remember that I even tried to rid myself of it completely, but the trumpet vine won the battle, evidently. I will cut it back hard in the autumn.
At ground level, I manage to grow most of what I want. The mature tree roots do stretch out quite far and suck up moisture, and of course the shedloads of leaves that fall mean that delicate plants would flounder, but I’ve got mainly toughies growing in those areas – Geraniums, Euphorbias, Heucheras, and herbs including oregano and rosemary. The ferns of course are well suited to a woodland setting, and this year they are at their most vibrant, with the shuttlecock ferns sending out fresh new fronds.
The mini wildlife pond needed careful positioning – under trees isn’t ideal as too much organic matter falling in would upset the balance and encourage algae to grow. So I placed it in a border near the house wall, as far from the main leaf-fall zone as possible. There’s so much vegetation now, you can hardly see it, but take my word for it: it’s there and is home to a happy frog or two.
That’s my short woodland garden tour, I hope it gives you a glimpse into how gardening under trees isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and most of the difficulties can be overcome. So while I do sometimes curse the endless balls of seeds raining down on my plants and terrace, I wouldn’t be without the trees. How do you feel about woodland gardens?