“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”.
Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When we moved in our garden was mostly lawn and mature trees apart from two totally overgrown hazel thickets. They were impenetrable. The one on the southern boundary was dug out when we had the greenhouse built but we decided to keep the one on our eastern side. With a little imagination we could see that by removing about a quarter of them we could make a short woodland walk – and introduce lots of lovely woodland plants.
There was an awful lot of weeding to do too: nettles, celandines and docks which all needed to be thoroughly dug out by the roots. Once that was done we dug out a shallow path to line with membrane and then fill in with forest bark. It was starting to take shape so I began to plant bulbs and transplant ferns and other shade loving plants.
That was three years. Now the daffodils, snowdrops and hellebores are the stars of early spring along with heucheras and pulmonarias. I’ve also planted primroses and hepaticas. By high summer the canopy from the hazels is very dense and we have fewer flowering plants but the ferns still add interest.
Every winter we take out old limbs by cutting them right back to the ground. This is “coppicing” and encourages more straight, vertical shoots from the base. We use some of these for plant supports. Unfortunately the trees had been the victim of bad pruning in the past where someone had hacked them all off at 6 feet high rather than ground level which meant they’d carried on shooting from the pruning cut. Some were extremely lanky and more than 15 feet high. We’re slowly cutting these out.
Nothing goes to waste: hazel wood burns beautifully on an open fire and the smaller branches make good kindling.