Native Wildflowers for Woodland Planting
Lindsay and Steven Lister, From Plantwild, with their selection of native wildflowers for woodland settings or shady corners - 04 March 2019
Woodlands are wonderful areas of nature to enjoy and the benefits of spending time within the landscape and greenery of a woodland are known to contribute to people’s health and wellbeing. Woodlands provide interest throughout the year and the complementary planting of wildflowers adds a beautiful element to enjoy.
Winter aconite and snowdrop
In the Spring, many will already have seen native wildflowers carpeting UK woodlands; the crisp white Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) fresh yellow winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) and later followed by drifts of English Bluebells (Hyacynthoides non-scriptus). Some wildflowers such as Wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) and Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) are also Ancient woodland indicator species. Ancient woodlands have great ecological significance, as they are defined as land that has been wooded in England and Wales since 1600AD. The stable conditions over the years offers the ideal environment for wildflowers to establish that are slow to spread. They also provide habitats to a diverse range of wildlife some of which are rare species. However, younger woodlands together with trees planted in gardens or urban areas are also essential in providing wildlife habitats, offering protection and corridors for wildlife as they move between fields, hedgerows, established woodlands and gardens.
Wood anemone - an indicator for ancient woodland
Although many gardens will not have space for a large wooded area, even an area of fruit trees, a specimen tree or a large shrub will be the perfect starting point for creating a woodland habitat. A shady spot in the garden under trees or shrubs can often be neglected, but a wonderful woodland environment can be created by adding in layers of plants to bring the area to life. Wildflowers form an important element in the ecosystem and by underplanting in woodland, they provide shelter to small mammals and insects in conjunction with attracting pollinators.
Under mature trees, where the shade cover is already established, traditional native woodland wildflower species can be introduced before the tree canopy develops. Spring bulbs are ideal to plant and offer wildflower interest from January onwards. In fact, Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) as one of the first UK native wildflowers of the year are always a welcome sight peeping through the frost or snow. They are perfect when planted alongside the golden Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)
Later in the Spring, adding in other native bulbs such as English bluebell (Hyacynthoides non-scriptus), Wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) and the dark Grape hyacinth (Muscari neglectum) will also attract early pollinators and add a beautiful depth of colour. These can be combined with planting a range of wildflowers such as Wild garlic (Allium ursinum), Dog violet (Viola riviniana), Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) and Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
As the tree canopy develops into the Summer months the low light intensity on the woodland floor offers challenging conditions for some, but wildflowers such as Woodruff (Galium odoratum), Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) and Sanicle (Sanicula europaea) are all real shade lovers. Other options for Summer planting are within opening glades and the woodland edge where wildflowers thrive, as the sunshine breaks through the leaf cover. Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca) Dog wood (Cornus sanguinea), Giant bellflower (Campanula latifolia), Red campion (Silene dioica) and Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) are all ideal in these situations.
As Autumn develops, perhaps the Autumn leaf colour will surpass the wildflower display. However, some wildflowers can be chosen for their prolonged flowering such as Golden rod (Solidago virgaurea), Wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia), Red campion (Silene dioica) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), adding contrast to the shades of Autumn. These can easily be found to bloom through to October, attracting later pollinators to the garden.
During the Winter months, there is no need to clear the leaves in a woodland which offer welcome shelter and valuable food sources for a whole wildlife community. Fallen branches can also remain, as a log pile provides homes for an array of insects and small mammals.
In a woodland area where young trees or large shrubs have been planted, and the shade cover is minimal, a native woodland area can still be created over time. Initially woodland wildflowers which either enjoy dappled shade or are found in woodland glades should be planted. Primrose (Primula vulgaris), English Bluebell (Hyacynthoides non-scriptus), Wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) Bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum), Golden rod (Solidago virgaurea), Nettle leaved bellflower (Campanula trachelium) and Red campion (Silene dioica) are all suitable and offer a range of flowering times across the seasons. These can be planted into grassland or a border beneath the young trees or shrubs, first ensuring any rough grass, weeds or brambles have been removed. As the shade cover increases and once the trees or shrubs mature, other woodland wildflower species can then be introduced which prefer the deeper shade.
Woodland wildflower seed can be difficult to find, and if scattered on the woodland floor is often unreliable given the challenging conditions. Therefore, the most effective method to establish wildflowers in a woodland environment is to put in young plants and plug plants. The ideal time of year is Autumn or Spring when there is less shade from the tree canopy, therefore allowing enough light for the plants to develop. Placing in groups of 3-5 of the same species is perfect if space allows as it enables pollinators to locate the plants and aids cross pollination. Some plants described above, spread naturally by runners, underground rhizomes or bulbils and this naturalisation can be assisted by dividing the clumps after the first year. However over 3 – 5 years many of the woodland wildflower species will become established and spread themselves naturally through the woodland area, to provide an ever-changing display through the seasons and years to come.
Woodland glade with foxgloves in summer
Woodland edge planting in progress
At PlantWild, husband and wife team Steven and Lindsay are passionate about growing wildflowers of UK native provenance, many of which are fantastic for attracting bees, butterflies, insects and wildlife to the garden.