How do I Create a Woodland Garden?

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  • Written By: I. Ong
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 15 January 2019
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Creating a woodland garden requires some creativity, basic gardening tools, and an investment of time. Your woodland garden is best created not by clearing your current garden space and starting from scratch, but by building around existing natural features. You need to plan your ideal garden layout, create a clearing, and plant the appropriate trees and shrubs to give your garden a woodsy feel.

Survey your planned garden space and take note of any distinctive features that exist already. Areas that are heavily shaded by trees are prime spots for plants that thrive in the shade, to add color and keep the spot from looking empty. Bare spots can be turned into a clearing where you can talk a walk or sit to enjoy your garden. Naturally existing streams are a bounty you can turn into a miniature waterfall to further add to the beauty of your woodland garden.

Begin by selecting the area where you would like to have a clearing and cut the grass short in the chosen area. Given enough space, you can also create a circular or winding walkway using stepping stones. Add a comfortable bench in a sufficiently shaded area, or you can build a natural-looking one if there are conveniently placed tree stumps.


Plant shrubs and perennials that prefer the shade underneath tree canopies. Do not attempt to line up the plants neatly, but rather allow them to be scattered in a natural-looking manner. Shrubs such as red osier dogwood and yew shrubs will add some background greenery to the lower area of the trees. Perennials such as bleeding hearts and hosta plants can provide attractive touches of color in what might otherwise be dim, shaded areas.

Note that plants which thrive in the shade often rely on moist soil. Mix organic matter, such as compost, with the soil just before planting them. This will allow the soil to retain moisture for longer periods of time and nourish the plants you place there. Spread a layer of mulch over the soil after planting in order to prevent weeds from competing with your plants for moisture.

If your woodland garden has too few trees, you can remedy this by creating your own copse. Plant three or four relatively small trees close together, and remove all weeds and grass in a radius of about 3.2 feet (1 meter). This will allow the newly transplanted trees to settle without competition. Trees planted closely together will restrict each other from spreading out too much as they grow, and will eventually give the feel of a small forest after some years. Suitable choices for your copse of trees include birch, sorbus, Canadian hemlock, and flowering dogwood.

Enhance your woodland garden by planting clumps of wildflowers in patches of sunlight. Flowers such as twinflowers, blue bead lilies, false solomon's seals, and sweet cicelies will brighten up your garden. For a more authentic feel, you may wish to research the types of wildflowers native to your area and plant those.

If you have a stream in your area, it is possible to build a small waterfall of your own by means of strategically placed rocks. You can also build an artificial recirculating stream with some careful placement of water pipes and a pump, covering the equipment with rocks and sand for a natural appearance. The sound and look of flowing water adds a great deal to woodland gardens, and will reward you for the additional effort.

Once your woodland garden has been built to your satisfaction, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of your hard work without much more effort required. Woodland gardens require relatively low maintenance and falling leaves add to, rather than detract from, their appearance.



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