However, the transformation of the derelict wood, which is on lime-free, gravelly sand, was by no means my first experience of learning how and what to grow in various types of shade – as well as what I cannot grow! Therefore I decided to include plants I grow on shady walls, in beds and borders in dappled shade, and in particular, to include the Long Shady Walk, the north-facing clay bank and the Little Grassy Wood. These areas are shown on the garden plan on pages 12–13.
For forty years we have been adding to the collection of shade-tolerant plants in the Long Shady Walk on the garden’s west boundary, where the soil is mainly fine, black silt, and terminates in a north-facing clay bank. This gently meandering walkway, about 125m/400ft long and 2m/6½ft wide, has become a cool refuge for people and shade-loving plants. It lies beneath the canopy formed by a row of ancient oaks that grow at the top of a sloping bank and have formed part of a natural boundary between two farms for centuries. Rain falling on the gravel-based farmland finds its way underground to a spring-fed ditch and into the lowest, clay-based levels of the garden, where we excavated three ponds. Beyond the oaks lies arable farmland, virtually devoid of trees and hedges, where both east and west winds scour the land uninterrupted.
One of the first decisions, forty years ago, was to plant an efficient windbreak (and, I have to admit, something to exclude schoolboys and rabbits, both of whom enjoyed the peace and freedom of this wild patch). The soil being too poor and dry on the gravelly slopes and too waterlogged in the hollow to be worth farming, this area between my husband’s orchards and the neighbouring farm had lain untouched for years. After we had removed the native scrub, elder, blackthorn, hazel and blackberries growing on the bank between and beneath the trees, our next job was to erect a rabbit-netting fence, buried several centimetres deep, with the base turned outwards into the field to foil determined scrappers. Impatiently I began to plant inside the netting, but soon found my young shrubs battered by the west wind which almost blew me over as it tore across the empty fields. For immediate shelter I bought many yards of Netlon, usually used for shading, and draped it over the wire fence, where it lasted for several years, long enough to help the young shrubs to become established as a windbreak. I planted evergreens to create a screen, both in winter and summer; among them is a golden yew (Taxus baccata ‘Elegantissima’), laurustinus (Viburnum tinus), various cotoneasters, common laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) and a few upright conifers for contrast.
10 BETH CHATTO’S SHADE GARDEN