My signature plant [though not necessarily my favourite!] is the blue flowering Corydalis flexuosa. [Pictured bottom right on the cover of this book] For those of us who have unwittingly fallen under its demure, beguiling charm, we also know that when it comes to those 'true' blues in the garden, that most of them can be described as temperamental at best. I have had relatively good success with most, pampering and coddling as I tend to do for those that pull on my heartstrings hardest, but was recently introduced to Corydalis 'Wildside Blue' a cross between C.flexuosa x C. elata that originated in Keith Wiley's very own garden at Wildside. It is a delight to have in the garden, being a more robust form of the delicate C.flexuosa, with the same startlingly blue flowers that float like a cool shoal of icy sea horses atop a tumultuous sea of ferny grey green foliage. What makes it such an important plant for me is the fact that it rarely goes summer dormant which most of its cousins tend to do when the temperatures and humidity climb. If you're determined to have true blue in the garden, make sure to include this plant!
I first read Wiley's book simply entitled 'Shade,' back when I decided that I was going to transform a narrow strip of soil that runs vertically between my and my neighbour's house. I was hoping to create something akin to a woodland - my only challenge being that there would be no trees present - only the hulking presence of a house that was easily within my arm span. Very little natural light would penetrate this long, narrow but well protected siting.
Wiley's is an enthusiastic writing style, writ from his love of plants and a topic that he has been experimenting with for years. After leaving University, he took up a position as head gardener at Garden House, an expansive property in the southwest corner of England. Already well established, it was here that Wiley fell head over heels for a relatively small group of plants known as Erythronium. With a thirst for knowledge, he soon found himself seeking out and experimenting with as many 'woodlanders' as was possible. The rest they say is history, and today, he and his wife run an established and well known garden nursery [complete with stunning display gardens] in Devon known as 'Wildside.'
'Designing and Planting A Woodland Garden,' is a gem of a book on so many levels! I've mentioned his gregariously enthusiastic writing style, which for me personally is of vital importance as I want not only to learn, I also want to be wowed and tantalized. I want to feel even the smallest modicum of passion and thrill that the other experiences, even if I did not know the difference between Arisaema and Anemone!
The book is cleverly divided into sections: Each one gently educating and steering the 'green' acolyte towards a workable understanding of what exactly a 'woodland' garden is, and more importantly, how to create and maintain one successfully! 'Into the Woods,' 'The Woodlanders,' 'Creating A Woodland Garden' offer the perfect tutorial for those interested in this most fascinating niche of the gardening world, whereas 'Woodland Trees and Shrubs,' Woodland Perennials,' 'Bulbs, Corms and Tubers,' and finally 'Ferns, Grasses and Grass-Like Plants' is essentially a listing of some of Wiley's favourite woodland plants. Naturally this second section is where I immediately honed my attention, in large part thanks to my collector/hoarder tendencies - always on the look out for something new and unusual! I was elated to find so many of my own personal favourites listed and in some cases shown throughout the lavish photographs that accompany the text. Each of the selected and highlighted plants is accompanied by a comprehensive hands on description which includes its growth habit, as well as a cross reference as to where it will be most happy in the larger scale of the woodland garden overall. Its easy to say tall at the back, short at the front, but Wiley wants us to look at the bigger picture. He answers a bevy of questions including why he tends to keep his bulbs somewhat separate from other woodland plantings, and how it is possible to create a woodland where no existing trees are present. This was a section that I was keenly interested in, as with my postage stamp sized property, the successful addition of trees remains a faint desire at best!
I also enjoyed a section entitled 'Anatomy of a Woodland Border,' whereby a series of cross sections, he was able to describe a relatively narrow woodland garden that he created in the absence of trees. While progressing through the gardening year, the reader is afforded a cross sectional view of this garden with a comprehensive analysis of the various plantings in regards to the overall cohesion of the site, including a listing of all of the plant materials that have been incorporated. I love to choose a particular section of my garden and view it over the course of the growing season. There is so much to be intuited from it, if only we take the time to look.
Corydalis 'Wildside Blue' with Pinellia tripartita 'Golden Dragons, Aralia cordata 'Sun King,' and Gentiana 'True Blue' in my woodland border
A relatively quick read [perhaps due to my comprehensive collection of books on this topic] its level of comprehension tends to lean towards the novice gardener [albeit as do many Timber Press releases] but it should definitely not be overlooked, especially by the would be collectors/hoarders, if only for the chock-a-block listing of a number of truly magnificent plants that no worthwhile woodland garden should be without. Available from Timber Press.