Shade is a condition most gardens must deal with, but at Bowood House in Wiltshire there is more than most of us could dream of in the 30-acre woodland garden. Originally planted by the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne in 1854, this woody expanse is now a rich tapestry of azeleas, magnolias and, most famously, rhododendrons that together form a stunning display in the spring when the garden is open to visitors.
We took a tour and found 10 design ideas that can work in any size shady garden:
Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer for Gardenista.
The woodland garden sits in a 2,000-acre estate that was landscaped by Capability Brown; the first rhododendrons were planted here by the current Lord Lansdowne’s great-great-great-grandfather. It was the perfect site for the Himalayan plants, brought to Britain by the intrepid Victorian plant hunters. The collection is now vast, and a decade ago 30 hardy varieties that were thought to have been lost were discovered in the garden here.
The current Lord Lansdowne has been a great reformer, closing down the farm business on the estate in a bid to restore Capability Brown’s pastoral landscape.
A collection of dramatic tree ferns casts dramatic silhouettes on the margins of the main tree canopy.
And on the ground, collections of ferns continue to add to the mix of layered textures.
Swaths of Color
A woodland garden is the perfect environment for spring flowers—including pretty Primula japonica, which will flourish in the damp conditions and grow and flower before the tree canopy provides denser shade in the summer.
Simple mown paths, wide enough for a couple of people to walk alongside each other, maintain the pastoral mood here and also provide subtle definition between the woodland and its walks.
Most of the trees here are native oaks and sweet chestnut trees along with specimen trees chosen for their dramatic flowers including Davidia involucrata (the handkerchief tree), which has beautiful white bracts that emerge in May; Cornus capita with delicate creamy yellow bracts in summer and lush berries in autumn, and a collection of magnolias with their beautiful waxy flowers.
N.B.: Here are more of our favorite landscape ideas to make the most of a shade garden:
- Beth Chatto’s Garden: Shade-Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest.
- Design Sleuth: The Ultimate Shade Garden.
- Native Perennials for a Shade Garden: 9 Favorites for Cold Climates.