To many gardeners shade implies problems but Beth Chatto sees shade as an advantage. In her book, Woodland Garden, she describes over five hundred plants that she grows in her relatively dry shade garden. By choosing plants that are adapted by nature to flourish in shade she had produced a garden that is beautiful all year around and rivals any garden growing in full sun.Chatto’s book takes the reader on a tour through her garden season by season describing the plants in their microhabitats. Her extensive knowledge of plants dominates the text as she details the huge varieties of species she grows. Did you know that there are over five hundred kinds of snowdrop (Galanthus spp.)? Of course, Chatto does not grow them all but she is familiar with many and she explains the differences and notes that by careful selection of available varieties a gardener can have snow-drops blooming from October to March.
Each season has its own highlights and Chatto identifies hers giving not only a description of the plant but also its background, idiosyncrasies, cultivation, and use in the garden. Numerous photographs appear in the text, some showing the plants with surrounding vegetation other close up to reveal their uniqueness. We read about self-sown primroses, the differences between varieties of Corylopsis, the light pruning of ‘Goldflame’ spirea to encourage better foliage growth, and the garden salad that echoes the colors of the helleobore flowers arranged in a vase. Even more plants that the author recommends for shade gardens are described in a special section at end of the book.
The book works on two levels: it is a treatise on shade gardening while at the same time a visit to a great garden. You can read it with pencil and paper for taking notes, or with a glass of wine for the shear pleasure of enjoying the garden scene. Either way it is a good read and valuable resource for shade gardening.