To make the most of space beneath trees, consider food crops and ground cover. Prune currants in winter and, on wet days, try raising houseplants from pips. Diminutive wrens are easier to spot in winter.
1. Woodland food
Traditional crops may disappoint under shade, but alpine strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants, black, or particularly red and white currants give useful crops. Edible flowers including aquilegia and day lilies grow in partial shade, and, for deeper shade, violets. For flavourings, mint and horseradish grow in light shade, while wild garlic prospers beneath deciduous trees. For salads, consider chard, spinach and land cress. As well as suiting shaded sites, these crops offer a way to use space under fruit trees.
2. Underplanting trees
For dry, shady conditions beneath deciduous trees, consider woody evergreens including ives with glossy reflective green leaves or bright variegated forms, and periwinkles (vinca) with abundant purple-blue spring flowers. For moist acid soils, try Pachysandra ternata, including the arguably classier variegated form P. terminalis Variegata. Herbaceous plants include Polygonum affine “Darjeeling Red”, whose foliage dies off red in autumn but persists all winter, and evergreen Ajuga reptans “Atropurpurea”, with bronzed leaves. Iris foetidissima seedpods split in winter, exposing brilliant orange-red seeds.
3. Currant pruning
Blackcurrants are relatively simple; remove a third of the shoots in winter to near ground level, concentrating on the oldest. New shoots will form from spring, replacing less fruitful older ones.
For white and red currants, older shoots bear the crop, so pruning is lighter. Shorten the tips of new growth by half and cut new sideshoots to two buds from the main stem. Remove any old and unfruitful shoots, leaving a youthful replacement.
4. Fruit pip plants
Raise attractive foliage houseplants from pips and stones (main). Dates grow readily from seeds of the dried fruits left over from Christmas, while attractive glossy seedlings arise from lemon and other citrus pips. Some exotic fruits such as lychees, mangoes and pomegranates can also yield unusual houseplants. Avocados are the easiest: simply sow fresh seeds in pots and place on a radiator to get swift germination. Keep plants in a warm, sunny place; or, for citrus, a cool, bright room.
Little 10cm wrens venture into gardens, especially overgrown ones, from nearby wild places. Their loud song gives them away. Females choose one of the many moss-lined nests offered by males in which to lay in April They hunt spiders and insects with swift, darting movements. They seldom frequent feeders but appreciate water, including birdbaths.
Guy Barter is chief horticultural adviser for the Royal Horticultural Society (@GuyBarter).
The Royal Horticultural Society is a charity working to share the best in gardening and make the UK a greener place. Find out more at rhs.org.uk