As Rangers we spend a lot of time on our woodland estate often coppicing or knee deep in mud keeping ditches clear and pathways accessible. It is this time of year however, we can enjoy the woodland in a different aspect, one that doesn’t involve chainsaws or spades but searching eyes and a good reference book. Looking out for wildflowers gives a good indication of how well we are doing our job in respect of managing the health of our woodland. Spring is the start of the estate coming to life with vibrant colours that continue through the summer in a mass of blues, whites, yellows and reds; it is the gorgeous spectacle of Sissinghurst’s wildflower displays.
At Sissinghurst we have ancient woodland that thrives with wildflowers and we have a number of key indicator species that reflects and confirms its status of ancient woodland. So come with me on a virtual walk through spring on our estate and I’ll point out the rich diversity of woodland flora we are fortunate to have.
The property and estate is internationally well known and we are rightly proud of the abundance and beauty of our bluebells and on our walk it’ll be amongst the first plants we’ll see. The Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non- scripta) is a perennial plant found in Atlantic regions from Spain to the British Isles. It is a good indication of ancient woodland and carpets large areas of woodland floor providing an expansive and wondrous view. Combined with early bluebells we’ll find the Primrose (Primula vulgaris) which is another indicator of ancient woodland and like the bluebell is protected under the 1981 Countryside and Wildlife Act. With its pale yellow flowers, though white and pink flowers can be found elsewhere, the primrose is a delightful harbinger of spring and provides an abundance of early colour.
Vying for space with the primrose in early spring we’ll see the Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa). These woodland plants will tolerate some shade but not if covered by brambles or other invasive plants but fortunately our management allows the Wood Anemone to thrive by giving them open spaces.
As the weeks pass by more and more flora burst through the leaf litter, giving walkers an enchanting scene and providing insects with ample feeding opportunities. Continue on our walk and we’ll come across a couple of Sissinghurst “regulars”, Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) and Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea). Often seen growing side by side the intricate blue of the speedwell shows up against the brilliant white of the stitchwort. Walking through the estate we will come across many more of our woodland plants, Red Campion (Silene dioica), Ladies Smock (otherwise called Cuckoo Flower) (Cardamine pratensis), Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) or perhaps Bugle (Ajuga reptans) with its blue spires pointing skywards.
Perhaps though we might be lucky enough to come across one of my spring time favourites the Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeabdolon). Just as the bluebells start to fade the Yellow Archangel takes over the display with its distinctive yellow petals and red-brown streaks. It gives a vibrant dash of colour to the woodland floor attracting bees and providing a food source for many.
These are just some of the woodland flora we have on the estate but by no means all. If you want to see more you’ll have to swap your virtual boots for the real thing, pick a bright day and go on a voyage of discovery. You won’t find any planting schemes in this garden, no organised colour co-ordination, no formal layouts. What you will find is planting done by nature in the most natural landscape you can find. And that’s good enough for me.
Paul Freshwater (ranger)