RHS Harlow Carr column with Liz Thwaite: New generation takes on the Woodland wilderness

Matthew Brewer, centre, with Nick Smith, NEHS show director (left) and Harlow Carr curator Paul Cook (right)
Matthew Brewer, centre, with Nick Smith, NEHS show director (left) and Harlow Carr curator Paul Cook (right)

Some regular visitors may have noticed that we have been doing a lot of winter work in the Woodland here at RHS Garden Harlow Carr.

The Woodland is an area of the garden which is often missed by visitors but is integral to it.

“Without the Woodland, Harlow Carr would not be Harlow Carr; you just have to lean against a tree to feel history pulsing through its sap.”

These are the words of the famous Geoffrey Smith, Harlow Carr’s first curator, who in the 1950s began to open up the forest floor for bluebells, and planted hundreds of rhododendrons.

This Woodland Wilderness has been gradually developed over the years. In the days of Geoffrey Smith there was just a single grass track abutted by unmanaged woodland. Hardcore paths were then added to increase accessibility in it and new plants added to increase its seasonal interest.

In more recent years, beautiful oak shelters have been built at strategic viewing points, but the area still suffers from waterlogging and a large number of the original rhododendrons need uncovering and bringing back to their former glory.

So, this winter the Woodland Team have been busy clearing seedling trees and creating new routes in the upper section called the Woodland Glade. Work includes improving the drainage and creating new paths to get more people experiencing its special atmosphere and qualities.

By opening new spaces we can also improve the views through the woodland and add new planting to enrich the area.

The vegetation layer mainly comprises of deciduous woodland dominated by beech and oak and naturally seeded sorbus, birch and holly with the occasional yew. Magnolias have been planted and foxgloves, primroses and ferns have been added to the woodland edge.

A lot of this winter work has been taken on by a relatively new member to the team, Matt Brewer, who trained at Kew Garden and RHS Garden Wisley.

We have just heard that Matt has won the regional finals of the Young Horticulturalist of the Year competition. Congratulations to Matt on his achievement.

I’m so proud of all the young talent we have here at Harlow Carr. Matt has been instrumental to the developments you will see in the Woodland this year. I wonder: have we found the next Geoffrey Smith?

Do come and see the Woodland Team’s work this spring and experience for yourself the beauty and tranquillity of the Harlow Carr Woodland.

For more information about RHS Garden Harlow Carr, visit rhs.org.uk/harlowcarr.