Gardens Illustrated
Woodland planting scheme in a tree stump. © Richard Bloom

A woodland container display for spring

Published: March 6, 2022 at 3:12 pm

Jenny Barnes, head gardener at Cottesbrooke Hall, has created a woodland planting scheme for spring that uses a tree stump as a container. Photographs Richard Bloom.

I came across this gnarly old tree stump while walking on the Cottesbrooke estate and knew its craggy, rustic appearance would be the perfect backdrop for a display of small woodland plants.

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People are often daunted by areas of shade, which have a reputation for being difficult, but there are so many fantastic spring flowers, such as Chrysoplenium macrophyllum with its reddish-brown foliage and pretty green white flowers, that relish the shady conditions and deserve to be showcased.

A small pot of Erythronium multiscapedium seemed too delicate to add to the main planting hole and so, using double sided tape and sheets of bark collected from the woodland floor, I disguised the pot they were planted in as another log. Any number of additional pots could be added this way.

One advantage of placing the plants for this grouping into separate smaller containers is that once a plant has finished flowering, and past its best, you can easily swap that pot out for another to keep the display looking fresh.

How to achieve the look

Jenny Barnes caring for a woodland pot. © Richard Bloom
Jenny caring for one of the woodland pots. © Richard Bloom

Container and composition

I needed to create a reasonably sized planting pocket within the tree stump, so I hollowed out the centre using a chisel (a small axe or hand saw might be needed depending on the variety of wood). I also added a smaller planting socket to the side, into which I squeezed a soft shield fern. I wanted to keep the look as natural as possible, as if the fern had rooted there of its own accord.

Cultivation and care

Woodland plants such as these thrive in soils that are rich in organic matter, so make sure you incorporate lots of leaf mould when planting. Although plants that thrive in dappled shade are fairly tolerant of dry conditions, it's important that you don't let the containers dry out completely. By covering the surface of the container with a layer of bark chippings, you can help to lock in any moisture and so reduce the need to water often.

Plants used

Plants used in Jenny Barnes' woodland pot. © Richard Bloom
The plants used in Jenny's woodland display © Richard Bloom

Clockwise from top left:

Arum maculatum A tuberous perennial with white spathes in spring and red berries in autumn. 45cm. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

Polystichum munitum An evergreen fern with lance-shaped, glossy green fronds. 1.5m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis Heart-shaped pink and white flowers hang from arching stems above a mound of mid-green foliage. 1m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 3a-9b.

Chrysosplenium macrophyllum A useful evergreen ground cover with beautiful rusty red foliage in cold weather. 15cm. RHS H5, USDA 5a-9b.

Erythronium multiscapedium Cliftonii Group Offers delicate, creamy-white flowers in spring. 35cm. RHS H4, USDA 3a-8b. Read our expert advice on growing erythroniums.

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Vinca minor f. alba 'Gertrude Jekyll' Floriferous, mat-forming evergreen with dark green leaves and pretty white flowers from March to September. 10cm. RHS H6, USDA 3a-8b.

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