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Can't see the wood for the trees? What to do when your garden borders woodland

There's plenty to think about when you live next to woods

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'There is no comparison between a floor with sheets of bluebells, wood anemones or ferns, the ground cleared of rough branch debris, and a messy woodland floor of briars, nettles and decaying fallen trees and branches.'

'There is no comparison between a floor with sheets of bluebells, wood anemones or ferns, the ground cleared of rough branch debris, and a messy woodland floor of briars, nettles and decaying fallen trees and branches.'

Warmer temperatures bring slugs and snails out to play

Warmer temperatures bring slugs and snails out to play

Sow vegetable seeds, especially maincrop varieties of carrots, broccoli and peas

Sow vegetable seeds, especially maincrop varieties of carrots, broccoli and peas

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'There is no comparison between a floor with sheets of bluebells, wood anemones or ferns, the ground cleared of rough branch debris, and a messy woodland floor of briars, nettles and decaying fallen trees and branches.'

Where a garden meets the edge of a woodland can pose a problem. A plantation of trees, even a small group in single figures, can be tall and awkward in appearance, even gangling. In some situations, the view under the trees can be left open, indeed opened up and the space among the trees given full view. But this approach might not always be suitable for one or more of a variety of reasons.

When a view is allowed into a woodland area, two aspects of the woodland must hold up to scrutiny. First, the trees themselves must be reasonably attractive. There is a vast difference between the smooth towering trunks of well-managed beech or oak trees and the tatty ordinariness of conifers. While the former is a sight to see in itself, the latter is unappealing.

Second, the woodland floor must also be attractive. There is no comparison between a floor with sheets of bluebells, wood anemones or ferns, the ground cleared of rough branch debris, and a messy woodland floor of briars, nettles and decaying fallen trees and branches. It might be possible, of course, to clean a small woodland and make it look more natural and inviting.

But another consideration needs to be taken into account. If the view into the woodland floor is made open and the ground is cleared of weeds and rubbish, it is still important to consider where that view ends. It is quite frequently the case that the view along a woodland floor leads to an unsightly adjoining area. There is not much point in going to the trouble of a clear-out if it leads to an ugly view at its end point. Much better to skirt around the woodland, planting shrubs and small trees large enough to block the view into it.

Not all shrubs are suitable for use skirting woodland. Only the larger, more vigorous kinds will produce the kind of cover that is needed. Also the shrubs and small trees themselves must look the part. They need to be of species that might naturally occur at a woodland edge, not kinds that are too obviously garden shrubs and so look out of place.

There are many good shrubs and smaller trees suited to woodland skirting. Obvious choices would include natural woodland plants such as holly and hazel. These make a fine screen, coping well with the competition of tree roots under the soil surface. Hydrangeas are natural woodland plants from the Far East and look completely at home skirting trees, especially the larger kinds such as Hydrangea aspera or Hydrangea quercifolia, the rougher kinds of rhododendrons and the wild azalea, Rhododendron luteum. But the ground must be naturally acidic or neutral for these to thrive.

The bigger cotoneasters do well, such as Cotoneaster bullatus. Near the sea coast, Euonymus japonicus does very well, tolerating salt and overhead shade. Viburnums of various kinds are suitable, especially the evergreen Viburnum tinus or the spreading Viburnum plicatum. It is an advantage to have some evergreen types but deciduous kinds are very effective too because they create enough screening with their bushy twigs to close off the view. The ideal is a mixture of both evergreens and deciduous.

Ideally, not more than two or three kinds should be used and these should be used in groups and repeated with one species taking up most of the numbers, over 50pc in any case.

These areas should only be planted up in autumn, using small good quality plants, fairly closely spaced at about one metre apart. The ground should be well prepared and all weed growth removed or killed. If this kind of planting is to be carried out, the area should be prepared well in advance.

Make an assessment now of whether even a small amount of this kind of planting would be beneficial and be ready to establish the new shrubs and trees in autumn.

What to do now

  • Lawns have grown strongly recently despite cool weather at times. Feeding might be necessary for pale, yellowish lawns or those with poor growth but most are growing well. Trim lawn edges.
  • Sow vegetable seeds, especially maincrop varieties of carrots, broccoli and peas, and repeat sow salads, radish and rockets. Sweetcorn and runner beans can still be sown under cover for planting out later.
  • Warmer temperatures bring slugs and snails out to play, place beer traps, or visit at night with a torch to remove. Don't use slug pellets as these can harm birds and other wildlife

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