I'm lucky enough to have quite a large garden here in Wiltshire. We've been here ten years, so it should by rights be looking how we want it to look by now. But gardeners never get to be satisfied with their garden - for a start it's always growing. And there's only one thing worse than things growing, it's things not growing, and naturally the ones that grow are always the ones you want to slow down a bit, or indeed stop altogether, and the ones that don't grow are the ones you really really want to get on with the job. Why is that? I expect it's Nature, or Karma or something, but anyway, it's really annoying. Especially when it comes to trees. Of which we have far too many, far too big. Some kind of control is going to have to be exerted, or we will have to start leaving trails of breadcrumbs to find our way from the back door to the gate.
Now don't get me wrong, I like a tree as much as the next woman, in fact I am a Tree Warden appointed by the Tree Council, no less, and I have a badge to prove it (I don't really) but whereas you can keep a rose bush or a shrub in tip top condition by judicious wielding of the secateurs and hedge cutters, and you can weed and thin and fertilize your herbaceous border, when it comes to a tree that's too big and casts shade over half the garden, it has to be dealt with by a professional, ie you have to "get a man in". Enter said man, the lovely James the Tree Man, who has just been round the garden with us and is going to spend a couple of days next month thinning out our forest of overcrowded trees, removing dead trees, and generally sorting out the problem for us. I doubt whether we will use all the logs in our log burner should the climate turn Sub Arctic and we live as long as Henry Allingham!
Anyway, even after the Lovely James and his merry men have done their professional best, we will still have a large number of large trees, casting a large amount of shade. So things have to be planted that will thrive in such conditions. If you don't plant things that will thrive, they will plant themselves, according to what Nature prefers to grow in your particular neck of the woods. In ours, it's mostly cow parsley. Cow parsley is lovely in the hedgerows, a delight in late Spring with its froth of creamy white flowers along the roadsides, but it's not what you want in your garden, so I have tried to replace most of it with slightly more suitable subjects. Top of our list is Pulmonaria, or lungwort which seems to do really well in dry shady conditions, and as an additional benefit is an excellent bee plant. Its pinky lilac flowers come early in the season, and when it's finished you can just get your husband to run the hedge trimmer across the foliage, which gets rid of the fading often mildewy leaves and it goes on to renew itself for later in the season. I must admit to getting a bit bored with having it all over the place and have recently tried a few different cultivars in particular "Blue Ensign" which has much brighter blue flowers, so I will see whether they do as well as our common type. I also have a large patch of Epimedium, which is on my to-do list to spread around under the trees as it does quite well there.Again the delicate yellow flowers come quite early on, but the leathery leaves remain and will see you weed-free through the rest of the year. I get my plants from all over the place, but I do recommend Peter at Just Perennial Plants on Ebay as a very good and knowledgeable supplier of well grown plants at reasonable prices.
The other usual culprits are variegated ivy, and the little periwinkle, Vinca minor. These two together make a thick carpet under the dense cover of the Cotoneaster tree and its neighbour a huge Euclyptus Gunii. A brief word of warning on this latter which grows quite close to the house, and was, I suspect, originally planted as a shrub, as the juvenile foliage is different from the mature leaves, and is much loved by flower arrangers. But be warned, if you fail to prune, and leave it for a year or two it will head for the sky, and you'll end up having to phone the Lovely James to come and rescue you from the 60 foot monster.