Spring Celebration in the Woodland

My woodland garden has three seasons of color with spring and fall being the most vibrant and summer being a cooler oasis of green. Since I rarely venture out into that part of the garden during winter I haven't included things specifically for winter interest although there are plenty of evergreen conifers, shrubs and perennials.

The shafts of sunlight filtering through newly emerging maple foliage is perfect to illuminate the colors beneath, so today I thought I'd share of few of those highlights with you.

Colors of Spring

English bluebells in front of Blade of Sun snowberry

The primary color combination at this time of year is blue and yellow. Last month it was all about the pale yellow English primroses and the blue forget-me-not type flowers of Siberian bugloss (Brunnera m. 'Jack Frost'), but May sees my English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) coming into their prime. Unlike their Spanish cousins these are non-invasive and have a delicate fragrance. I have them planted in clusters along the circular path that runs through my woodland where they are slowly naturalizing.

A path running through my woodland garden allows me to enjoy the color and fragrance of English bluebells in spring

One of my favorite "yellow" companions for the bluebells is Blade of Sun snowberry ( Symphocarpus chenaultii 'Blade of Sun'). This can be hard to find now that Monrovia is no longer growing it but well worth a treasure hunt. The low, mounding habit, bright gold deciduous foliage, drought tolerance (once established) and deer resistance makes it a highly desirable shrub in my garden. It needs protection from afternoon sun so the dappled light of a woodland is perfect.

Dwarf Bright Gold yew with English bluebells

Yew (Taxus spp.) is not usually deer-resistant but my Dwarf Bright Gold yew (Taxus cuspidata 'Dwarf Bright Gold') are somewhat away from the deer route so rarely bothered (observation of deer habits is key). I have these in dappled sun with blue hosta to the front and (Spanish) bluebells behind – more of my favorite spring color scheme. The new growth on the yew in spring is especially bright.

Dwarf Bright Gold yew and companions in spring: A blue and yellow medley

The wider shot above shows you other plants that feature in this blue and yellow color scheme: yellow Welsh poppies, blue flowering Jack Frost Siberian bugloss, and Ogon spirea (Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon').

Ephemeral Highlights

Big root geranium (Geranium m. 'Album') is a favorite groundcover for tough conditions including dry shade

Hardy geraniums are invaluable in the garden, with Rozanne being my #1 for sunny areas. For dry shade, however, I defy you to do better than the big root geranium, specially Geranium macrorrhizum 'Album' with its dainty white flowers, pink buds, and felted, semi-evergreen leaves. This is a true star in my woodland garden where I use it to line the stream banks that flood seasonally and also to cluster at the base of deciduous trees in the woodland. It combines perfectly with bluebells, primroses and ferns, gently self-seeding but never being a thug.

The pink buds are every bit as attractive as the blooms: Geranium macrorrhizum 'Album'

This groundcover also looks lovely beneath the common bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) where the pink and white hearts echo the geranium colors beautifully. Perhaps one of the greatest attributes of this geranium though is its deer and rabbit resistance, possibly due to the slightly hairy leaves and stems.

Dreamy color echoes of dusky purples and blue

Hellebores are largely past their prime now – unless you have included some with outstanding foliage! The last, dusky blooms of  Frostkiss Penny's Pink are somewhat ravaged by slugs but the dark purple stems and exceptional marbled leaves make this evergreen perennial a rockstar in all four seasons. A blue star juniper echoes the blue tints while a nearby Orangeola laceleaf Japanese maple echoes the warmer colors.

Spring foliage of red barrenwort (Epimedium rubrum)

Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.) are another great choice for the woodland being drought tolerant and deer resistant (although rabbits nay be an issue). The early flowers are a delight in the garden but the colorful spring foliage of red barrenwort (Epimedium rubrum) is something I look forward to every year. In another month these colors will become muted but for now they are a spring highlight.

What's happening in your garden? What highlights are you enjoying now, knowing they will be fleeting?

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  1. Cat on May 14, 2024 at 7:39 am

    What a beautiful woodland! Thank you for sharing! It's really great to see how colors don't always HAVE to be flowers, but hard to resist at least some. Loved seeing the red barrenwort especially! (Our rabbits disappeared this year since the raised bed garden now has heavy duty landscape cloth-lined pathways covered with gravel. Deer have avoided some areas where I laid down galvanized sheep panels… Will need to deal with the pumpkin patch again this year, or… if vines can crawl over sheep panels? Not sure it will work for raccoons, though!)

    • Karen Chapman on May 15, 2024 at 8:12 pm

      Hi Cat, sounds like you as busy as ever!

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