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A woodland garden is a garden which mimics forest environments within natural ecosystems. Woodland gardens do not even have to have large trees but will incorporate woodland species within a garden setting. These can be a shady area planted with shade loving shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs.
Woodland gardens can be both exciting and relaxing places to enjoy nature. It has been shown that naturalistic environments like woodlands can reduce stress and make us feel good. Planting a forest in your garden may be out of the question!
However woodland gardens are well within the realm of possibility for most gardens even very small ones. These can become a haven to escape the stresses of everyday life, a place to relax with your family and reconnect with nature.
Why make a woodland garden?
A typical scenario where you would want to create a woodland garden is where you already have established trees. These could be in your own garden or in surrounding gardens which cast shade on your site. This ‘borrowed landscape’ can be a way of making use of unwanted shade or boosting local wildlife habitat.
Woodlands are nature’s way of harvesting the suns energy in an efficient ecosystem. The varying canopies of vegetation create a lush, green environment rich in wildlife and seasonal delights. Do not be fooled by most typical woodlands in our countryside today. These plantations all contain trees the same age all with a single level canopy.
A good example of a completely natural, temperate forest is the Bialowieza Forest in Eastern Poland. This forest has never been cut and has varying canopy levels rich in biodiversity.
A well managed woodland garden can become a green oasis layered with vegetation and seasonal transformations. These can be planted with much smaller garden trees and plants to create thickets of colour.
You may want to plant a woodland scheme that encourages local birds! You may want an edible woodland, orchard or food forest creating layers of edible fruit, nuts, berries, mushrooms and tubers.
With woodland gardens quite possibly the opportunities are endless.
Designing your woodland garden
Whether you already have established trees or are starting from scratch you need a vision! Sometimes visualising a completed outcome in your mind is extremely challenging.
This is where you may need some precedent images to interpret what you want. By using visual search engines there are plenty of examples of effective woodland gardens. These can give you some great extra ideas as well as visualise your own project.
Take pictures of your garden from multiple angles. These can be printed out in black and white and sketched over using tracing paper. This can get the whole family involved in the planning process. Individual ideas and scenes from precedent images can also be overlaid onto images of your garden.
When you have physical proposals for your garden zones map them out on a sketch garden plan. Start making a list of plants you need to acquire, at what size and how long it will take them to reach their full height. Check out our articles on plants that love shady gardens and best trees for small gardens.
With all landscape design and build projects there will be some trial and error. Designing your woodland garden should be educational and also fun. The more time you spend doing research and planning out your garden the more chance you have of a successful outcome.
Woodland gardens are a fantastic opportunity to create enclosed spaces. These can be a great way to block out human development or urban views. Using canopies of foliage you can create your own secret haven for some much needed escapism. Creating enclosure with woodland gardens can also protect from strong winds, sound pollution and air pollution.
As well as creating enclosed areas woodland gardens can provide ideal settings for seating areas. These gathering spaces can provide much needed shade during the hot, summer months. There is something very therapeutic about sitting out with the family listening to rustling leaves and singing birdlife.
Woodland gardens don’t just have to be dense, unmanageable jungles of greenery! Woodland gardens can give you the ability to take advantage of contrasting textures and colour. The bark of trees such as Birch, Cherry and Acer grisium look striking against contrasting back grounds. Woodland gardens can be planted with shrubs of varying foliage for dramatic contrast! These include the dark reds of Cotinus or the light greens of Lonicera to name a few.
Develop layered canopies
The way to plant a successful woodland garden is to develop woodland canopies. This is typical of natural woodlands which create very bio diverse environments.
When deciding what plants you want in your garden take note of their eventual height and spread. This way you can start to plan what your canopies will look like. Remember canopies are supposed to capture the suns light on many levels.
Make sure your plants are planted in order of height facing the sunlight. In the northern hemisphere this is 'south facing'. This way all levels of your canopies will capture enough sunlight to thrive.
Create a food forest
Not only can woodland gardens be tranquil and aesthetic they can also provide harvests.
Forest foods can produce amongst some of the most prestigious delicacies! Nut crops, rare fruits, cold weather yams, and mushrooms are just some of the woodland delights your woodland garden can provide.
By planting a combination of particular trees, shrubs and perennials you can create a food forest which will produce year after year with hardly any input. If you would like to know more about this concept study agro-forestry or I recommend Martin Crawford’s book ‘Creating a forest garden’ .
Create a journey with paths
With their shady enclosure and mysterious thickets woodland gardens are a great opportunity to create suspense and discovery. By creating winding paths through your woodland you can provide a journey which excites the senses. If planned meticulously these woodland pathways can become a seasonal display of excitement! Woodland paths make effective nature trails and are a lot of fun for children to learn and explore.
One of the best surface materials to implement into your woodland garden is bark chippings or woodland mulch. This gives the garden a distinctive look and feel of natural woodland. In nature dead trees and plants fall to the ground and decompose on the forest floor.
The result is naturally occurring loose, woody mulch. Covering your garden with natural wood chip replicates the natural processes within woodland. This will encourage beneficial soil, plants and animals which promote healthy soil ecology. Wood chippings also allow you to suppress weeds and keep moisture retained within the woodlands soil.
Creating a woodland garden gives you a unique opportunity to encourage wildlife. Having buzzing insects and singing birds gives the impression you are in real woodland. Hence it is fitting to add as many habitat boosters as possible.
These can include insect hotels, bird boxes and feeding stations in the tree canopies. Decomposing woody material alongside dense plantings and fruiting plants make woodland gardens fantastic for wildlife conservation. Eventually you will gain hours of pleasure watching creatures you have provided a green oasis for.
Woodland garden ideas
What makes woodland gardens really unique is the multitude of varying activities which can be hosted within them. Indeed woodland gardens create that little bit of accessible wilderness in our lives which evokes our sense of adventure. A well thought out woodland garden will encourage numerous new ways to use and enjoy your garden with the whole family. Below are just some of these exciting and interactive ideas!
Grottos are a type of manmade cave which can be loads of fun for children. These can simply be a glorified garden shed or summer house, perfect for hiding away from the world! Grottos can be created in a whole range of styles from tribal like huts to Tee pee like structures.
What better way to enjoy your woodland garden than at night when the sun comes down. Humans have had camp fires in woodlands for thousands of years before the time of agriculture. Fire pits will give you the perfect opportunity to reconnect with nature and spend time with friends.
Wildlife huts or viewing hides are a fantastic way to watch wildlife in your woodland garden. These can be small, camouflage tents or more permanent structures built out of timber. The more permanent these are the more wildlife will get used to them, hence increasing good wildlife watching opportunities.
Log piles are a great way to replicate dead and decaying wood in a natural woodland. This can add a vital habitat for rare beetles and fungi as well as giving creatures a place to hide. Logs can also look be extremely attractive features as a sort of natural sculpture. Logs can also be set vertically into the ground to create standing deadwood habitat.
Bird box cameras
Bird boxes are very effective at providing wild birds with suitable nesting sites. Woodland gardens also provide the extra opportunity to install bird boxes with live video recorders. These gadgets allow you to get a personal and up close view of birds rearing their young.
Bird watching is an exciting and interactive way of enjoying your woodland garden as it establishes. One of the best ways to get the ball rolling bird watching is to install a bird feeder. These come in all shapes and sizes and can easily be hung from tree limbs or raised platforms.
Hedgehogs are a huge fan of woodland gardens as they replicate their natural woodland habitats. Even though woodland gardens can be a great place for them to feed they can still lack good nesting sites. Hence installing a hedgehog home or nesting box is a great addition to your woodland garden project.
Not many people know you can use the shady and humid conditions in your woodland to grow edible mushrooms! Expensive delicacies such as Oyster mushrooms and Shiitakes are typically grown on logs in woodland environments.
Simply acquire suitable logs from a tree surgeon and buy dowels infected with mushroom mycelium. To get started growing mushrooms you can purchase a mushroom growing kit or an informative book like: Mushroom Cultivation An Illustrated Guide to Growing Your Own Mushrooms at Home.
Woodland gardens by their very nature are very relaxing places to be! What better way to get the maximum relaxation out of your woodland garden than with a Hammock. These can easily be attached to fence posts or trees easily folding away when not in use. Hang out, read a book, have a drink or simply sit and watch the birds in your new woodland paradise.
Wild camping is camping with only the bare essentials within a wilderness setting. This is camping in its truest form and an extremely enjoyable way to enjoy nature. Your woodland garden will give you a unique opportunity to camp out in the wild. However you will never be far from the comfort of your own home, or bed!
With new, digital technology camera trapping has become more accessible to people than ever. Digital camera traps are an amazing way to discover what lurks around your back yard at night. By creating a woodland garden you are sure to encourage all sorts of new wildlife to visit! Why not monitor what new species are moving into your woodland habitat and calling it home?
For more information and inspiration on creating shady or woodland planting schemes: Beth Chatto's Shade Garden is a useful resource.
Planning on creating your own woodland garden? Why not visit ourresource page or recommended landscaping tools article here.
If you require a landscaper, landscape gardening or garden design services why not contact Paul and his team. Our landscape services cover Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire Hertfordshire and the Chiltern region.
Some of our typical project locations include; Amersham, Aylesbury, Beaconsfield, Berkhamsted, Chalfont, Chesham, Gerard's Cross, Great Missenden, High Wycombe, Princes Risborough and Wendover.
Paul Nicolaides has over 30 years of recreational gardening and 20 years of professional landscaping experience. He has worked for landscape contractors including design and build practices across London and the South East. In 2006 he qualified with a BA Hons degree and post graduate diploma in Landscape Architecture. In 2009 he founded Ecospaces an ecological landscaping practice which aims to improve social cohesion and reduce climate change through landscaping. In 2016 he founded Buckinghamshire Landscape Gardeners which designs and builds gardens across Buckinghamshire and the South East. This blog aims to provide easy problem solving information to its audience and encourage others to take up the joy of landscaping and gardening.