The forests of North America are the inspiration for many fine woodland gardens. If you live in a forested region, you probably understand why.
These forests house many deciduous and evergreen trees, flowering shrubs, wildflowers, and other fascinating plants such as ferns and mosses.
They also create something elusive: Atmosphere
If you live in an area that is or was forested, you can build woodland gardens that bring at least some of that Atmosphere back into your daily lives.
Through planning, you can also bring attractive native plants into your garden to turn it into a sanctuary for you and wildlife.
When planning woodland gardens, I consider there are two basic types of forests you can emulate.
Your first step is to decide which type of forest inspired garden you would like:
Type #1 – The Dark Forest can inspire a unique style of garden
In this type of a forest, trees are planted closely and are often predominately evergreen. These evergreen trees effectively block out the majority of light from reaching the lower levels of the forest.
Hence, there are very few plants growing under these trees. You may find mosses and some ferns growing and not a lot else.
The mood that is created is unmistakable. Cool, dark, and to some city folk kind of scary. Think of the forbidden forest from Harry Potter.
Type #2 – Woodland Gardens are more appropriate for most yards
Here the trees are spaced more widely apart and their canopies don’t always touch. They often have deciduous trees that let in light in the spring for wildflowers before their leaves open up. There is naturally enough light and space beneath the tall trees for many understory trees and shrubs, and a diverse ground layer of flowers, ferns, and mosses.
Unless you are a naturally a dark person, you will probably prefer a garden modeled to evoke the woodland. It’s just happier and more interesting. Think of the 100 acre woods here. Winnie the pooh is a heck of a lot less scary then Voldemort or Abe Lincoln with a light saber!
Step #2 in Creating your Woodland Gardens – Exploration
The best way to begin the design of your woodland gardens, is to go nearby native forests in your area. Try to find ones that are well managed and not overridden with poison ivy and buckthorn, if you can help it.
Take a notebook and camera. Take note of the light conditions, the type of soil (rocky, sandy, clay) and the moisture levels in the ground. Compare these to what is at your garden site.
You should also look at the patterns of shrubs and trees in the forest. Get a brochure from the forest entrance or rangers office. If you can’t, get a field guide. Look at the different levels of plants. What are the tallest trees? What are the under story trees? What are the shrubs in that layer? Write down some notes of how they are arranged.
You are not looking for a literal design to copy here. Instead, you are looking for the types of plants that make up the forest and which ones tend to grow with each other.
Stay tuned as I will discuss how to use this information in the design of your woodland gardens, whether you have a wooded lot already or have bare ground in a new yard.
I really enjoy this series of articles. I moved to a good sized city lot (from a farm edged with mature forests) and am on a mission to create my own little forest. Even though I was 66 years old when I started 5 years ago. We are within walking distance to a small woodland and I did what you suggested – walked through it and noted the soil and trees. It has been a challenge to buy the trees I wanted because native species are not generally sold by the large nurseries. But I persisted and my back yard will one day be a little haven of native woodland. I won’t see them attain any size, but it gives me great pleasure watching them grow.
Jim Bennett says
Glad I found you. I just bought a house which backs up to a forest.
It’s beautiful – I’m trying to make it more so.
Looking forward to much help from you.
I think you will want to see my next couple of posts (next one will be June 14th).
I have a ten acre garden I’ve been working on since 1979. Since I have mostly trees and large shrubs, keeping the winter sun shining on the house has been a real challenge. We don’t have a lot of sun during the winter here near Seattle, so it’s important to keep in mind. Deciduous trees do the job during summer and allow the winter sun to shine through.