Designing A Woodland Garden

Designing a woodland garden waterfallWhen designing a woodland garden it is important to turn to nature for design clues for layout and plant selection. By following a few easy steps you will be designing a woodland garden of your own in no time at all.

To get started visit woodlands in your area and observe the types of Trees, Shrubs, and Plants growing there. Take note of the soil is it rich humus or sandy and does it drain quickly or is it moist and soggy all these clues will help with your design. These notes will be important latter.

Look around the woodland you will notice that in nature everything is planted in layers starting with your high canopy trees moving down to your mid canopy trees then understory plantings and finally ground covers. Each of these different parts plays an important role in the woodlands design. You will also notice that things do not always line up exactly so when it comes to your design be sure to keep this in mind.

Designing A Woodland Garden In Your Yard

Now you will take note of the wooded area on your property and how it compare to those natural areas you have visited. How does your wooded area compare to the ones you visited. Are you dealing with a highly shaded area or do you get moderate light, soil type and moisture, and the existing native plant material. Based on these observations decide what native plants would do best under your conditions and the area you have to work with.

Preparing The Area For Planting

The first step is to prepare the area for planting which will require you to layout your planting beds and paths. The easiest method is to take a garden hose and use it to outline the perimeter of your bed. One you have your desired shape mark it with some marking paint and then clear out all debris and unwanted roots and vegetation. Wear appropriate clothing and beware of poison ivy and poison oak taking proper precautions in their removal and disposal. Trim out heavy lower growth from canopy trees to open the area and allow more light.

Once the beds are ready layout any stepping stones or pathways that you want to run through the area perhaps a clearing for a bench to sit and enjoy the woodlands. When designing a woodland garden always start by putting in the smaller plantings first then add in any understory plantings. If you leave your plants in the container you will be able to move them around and play with the design until you get it just the way you want it before you begin the plantings.

Planting Your Beds

When putting in your plants it is a good idea to mix some humus or compost into the planting holes to get the plants off to a good start. Be sure to water the plants in well then add a layer of mulch around them to conserve water and insulate the roots.

Choose a mulch that is complementary to the area like shredded leaves, pine needles, or bark so that it blends instead of standing out to give you a more natural look.

Up until now we have talked about using native plantings in your woodland garden and aside from keeping them watered the first year until they become established there is really little maintenance required after that aside from an occasional pruning.

There are many perennial flowers and plants that can be added when designing a woodland garden while they maybe not natives they will certainly add color and texture to your woodland garden. Just remember that even shade plants will need some sun to perform their best so if you use perennials they may need to be in an area that receives dappled sun light.
Here Are Some Plants That Will Work Well In Most Areas

  • Astilbe
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Bergenias
  • Columbine
  • Coral Bells
  • Corydalis
  • Epimediums (Barronwort)
  • Fairy Bells
  • Ferns
  • Foam Flower
  • Foxglove
  • Hostas
  • Lady’s Mantle
  • Lenten Rose
  • Ligularias
  • Lilly Of The Valley
  • Lungwort
  • Phlox
  • Primrose
  • Rodgersias
  • Snakeroot
  • Solomons Seal
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Toad Lilies
  • Violets
  • Yellow Wax Bells

These will all add some interest and  I highly recommend you consider using some of these when designing a woodland garden for your own yard.

About Glenn

Glenn Bronner is a professional groundskeeper with over 45 years of horticultural experience. Glenn is a published author of hundreds of articles on gardening and gardening related subjects. Glenn gardens in zone 5 in the Chicagoland area. You may visit him at
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