Advice & Guides

Springtime shade plants in the woodland

Spring time shade plants

Spring in the woodland garden is a magical time. Light levels are increasing, the soil is warming up and with good moisture levels from those April showers, plant growth is proceeding at pace.

The woodland garden

There are different styles of woodland garden. Some will be intricately planted up, with a myriad of shade loving plants, beneath various levels of canopy, created by deciduous small shrubs to large trees, with occasional evergreens for contrast. That means through winter and spring, before the deciduous trees have produced their new leaves, light permeates down to ground level and stimulates the explosion of growth. Every shade of colour is produced, including the pinks, reds and oranges that you might expect from a typical autumn.  However that is all topped by the countless colours of vibrant green which are on show.


 Springtime shade plants in the woodland

Established groundcover with Symphytum 'Hidcote Blue'


Beth’s woodland garden, has a different feel, with broad swathes of plants, mixing and competing with each other, giving it a more woodland feel. The majority of the canopy is high and cathedral like, mainly English oaks. After the 1987 hurricane felled many trees, the decision was taken to create this woodland garden. Further thinning of trees was required, along with removal of brambles, blackthorn and other unwanted plants. This left a blank canvas for Beth to start weaving a tapestry, with shade loving plants. Vigorous groundcovers were planted, to trap falling leaves, allowing them to break down and gradually start improving the very sandy soil. Periwinkles, Vinca minor ‘La Grave’, with their charming purple  flowers nestling amongst neat foliage. Comfreys, Symphytum ‘Hidcote Blue’, covering the ground with their coarse leaves, with pendulous clusters of flowers, pink in bud, opening pale blue and then white.

Bulbs were added, to flow from bed to bed, in natural sweeps and curves. Snowdrops arise first covering the ground in January and February. Daffodils take over during March, their golden yellow flowers matching the colour of the warming sun. Now, in April,  the various  Erythronium sp. break through the ground cover, with their, graceful nodding flowers, gently swaying above glossy foliage.

Springtime shade plants in the woodland

The beautiful Erythroniums

Shrubs and small trees were planted to slow up the flow of wind through woodland and create differing height levels. With appropriate choice, these can also provide early colour, with Mahonia sp. and their yellow, scented upright candle like flowers. Ribes sanguineum (Flowering currant), with its love or hate it pungent scent and dangling racemes of red through to white flowers. The stars of the show though are the beautiful Magnolia stellata and its hybrid forms. Upright white to pink flowers perched along the branches, opening to reveal their many elegant tepals.


As the ground cover settles, further plants are added to create the tapestry that Beth wants. Anemone nemorosa & Epimedium x versicolour ‘Sulphureum’ growing up through Vinca major var. oxyloba. Timing and knowledge of the plants is everything. Knowing when to cut the plants down, to allow the new growth to be shown off to its best effect the following spring. Whilst also partnering plants together, so that one doesn’t overwhelm the other.

Springtime shade plants in the woodland


Tapestry of shade loving plants.

Once the structure is in place, there is opportunity to add jewel like perennials to catch the eye. One of the most thrilling are the Trillium grandiflorum and Trillium chloropetalum, originating from North America.  One of the most coveted shade loving herbaceous perennials, requiring patience and good husbandry, but rewarding you with clumps of soft leaves, topped with unusual upright or gently nodding flowers.

Once the foliage emerges on the trees, the varying colours die down and the woodland garden reverts to a calming shady atmosphere, a place to cool yourself from the summer sun.


Steve Marshall

Springtime shade plants in the woodland

Comments (4)

As part of the woodland setting it also important to look at the health of your trees. If there is a diseased, dead or decaying tree then it would be advised to call in an expert tree surgeon, that will look at safe tree removal so that your woodland can be enjoyed without risk. The tree can then be left to decay naturally providing continued soil nutrition for those shade plants!
Halifax Tree Services | 22/02/2020
I come to Beth's on a weekly basis, to look and buy plants and I think it is beautiful at the moment with spring and the wonderful shades of green emerging. I would like to thank all the staff and volunteers for the joy they have given me over the decades. My garden is full of Beth's plants. Thank you all.
Lesley Cottam | 17/04/2017
Lovely. I have followed Beth's ideas in my own Woodland area through her books and the website. Next on my list is a visit to the garden, hopefully this time next year
Dorothy | 16/04/2017
Wonderful woodland cover which I have now achieved in our own garden here in Worcestetshire. A. Very Happy Easter to you all
Christine | 16/04/2017
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