Shady Characters

Shuttlecock Fern and Nasturtium leaf contrasts

I decided to write about the shadier woodland section of my garden for my second post, mainly because the weather has been damp and a tad grey lately, and in these conditions I think the sun-lovers always look like they are missing something. By contrast, the shadier sections don’t seem to care, and even revel in damp drizzle (unlike me!). I just love the way, for instance, that the Nasturtium leaves catch and hold onto droplets of rain.

Shuttlecock fern with Heuchera and Geranium macrorrhizum

I have the good fortune to have a lot of shuttlecock ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris, also known as the ostrich fern) growing here, more by accident than design, but they really suit the situation, and don’t mind the overhanging trees (lime and hornbeam) in the least. They are statuesque, spreading slowly but surely via their rhizomes, and adding a really vibrant splash of fresh green: perfect in drizzle! I like the contrast they make with the Heucheras, and with Geranium macrorrhizum, which flowers earlier in spring to coincide with the newly unfurled and incredibly fresh-looking ferns.

My cat, of a nervous disposition, feels safe looking out from her ferny vantage point

When we moved here almost exactly three years ago, this area was essentially a huge patch of geraniums, interspersed with a few of the ferns, and overhung by our neighbour’s mature lime and hornbeam trees. Although they are next door, the trees really do feel part of the garden, and we added a raised wooden deck here, which is our main garden seating and eating area. It actually gets a fair bit of sun, facing south, but with the overhanging trees, so it’s an unusual combination (and quite challenging for some plants, I have discovered, as the tree roots suck out a lot of moisture, and in autumn their fallen leaves smother everything).

A woodland feel but with some herbs, which like this sunny edge. Rosa ‘Compassion’ is making its way slowly up the pergola

I added a pergola to one edge of the decking, to add some interest, give more of a sense of enclosure and frankly what gardener can resist a chance to experiment with a few extra climbers? I’ve gone with a climbing rose on one side, Rosa ‘Compassion’, which is doing quite well for its second year, and two clematis on the other side: Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’ and Clematis ‘Betty Corning’, both from the small-flowered, summer-flowering Viticella group, and both flowering now. They are quite old varieties, ‘Etoile Violette’ dating from 1885, with ‘Betty Corning’ around fifty years on its heels, launched in the US in 1932. There’s something special about growing plants that were enjoyed by gardeners living in centuries past, and the thought that they were getting the same pleasure from them as we do today, despite the world having changed beyond recognition in so many other ways.

The gorgeous plush purple flowers of Etoile Violette, offset perfectly by its yellow stamens
The romantic nodding heads of Clematis ‘Betty Corning’

It’s such a pleasure to see plants growing well, and these two clematis seem so content in their woodland setting. All that lush growth has certainly attracted the aphids, and if you look carefully you will probably spot them on my photos, but the clematis really don’t seem bothered, and are flowering away quite happily. I’ve noticed ladybirds in other sections of the garden, and I’m hoping that the presence of large amounts of prey for them will attract them over here.

Speaking of predators, here is another one who was hopping around as I took these photos, a very welcome visitor. I would love to know what kind of frog he is if anyone reading this has an idea….