Six on Saturday: Gardening under trees

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?

21 thoughts on “Six on Saturday: Gardening under trees

  1. Dear Sel, many thanks for yet another beautiful blog post! I fully share your love for big mature trees and will do everything I can to preserve them in our neighbourhood (and starting with my garden). Have a great Saturday. Best regards — Vincent

  2. You have a beautiful setting there with those tall trees around you and I am rather envious! We planted lots of trees when we moved here – there were none at all, only fields – but they take so long to get established. We finally have a little shade in places! The trumpet vine is also something I envy as we just don’t have a sheltered enough spot for one. My last garden was next to woodland so I know how infuriating the seeds (sycamore there) can be!

    1. Yes tree planting is a long game! You have the upside of being able to choose precisely where you want them. I love our trees but they are rather close to the house and I look out of the windows anxiously during storms! We had a near miss last winter.

  3. That was a good read as always. I certainly enjoy the view of a large Sycamore and a Silver Birch in the distance when sitting in the garden, and the cherry trees on the green. Alas, quite a few of the trees that were planted near the pavements when the estate was built over 20 years ago (Mountain Ash and Silver Birch) have been chopped down by concerned house owners, fearful of damage to their houses (or sap on their cars). It’s a pity as the trees really add something. I think the issue here was that the builders seemed to plant them quite close to properties, not really thinking how big they’d get over time.

    1. That is such a pity, especially as those trees would have given valuable shade/cooling/air purification in the future – maybe people don’t always realise just how valuable they are. TBH ‘our’ trees are precariously close to the house, we had a near miss last winter – if I could just budge them by a few metres!

  4. I totally agree with you about the benefits of large trees in the garden. You did not mention the sounds of the leaves which makes the garden so special. However, I think you are more patient than me about the problems. Perhaps it is just because some of our big tree roots shredded the last part of the draining in our septic tank this year, but I still love them. Amelia

  5. I love large trees, I have a lot of them in the garden, but those are getting old, you also have to think about renewing them and planting young ones, … while they grow…
    I’ll take a look at the French recipe book you are talking about

  6. We only have one sizeable tree, an oak, which only shades part of the garden. It’s always been there but was very small when we moved in. So often people see shady areas as a problem and try to grow unsuitable plants in them. Like you, I look for the positives and find plants that suit the conditions trees create, of which there are very many. I wouldn’t change it for a moment.

  7. There is something about trees and shade that is easily taken for granted. The shelter they afford as they filter the wind and air is not to be underrated. I enjoyed reading your post.

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