Woodland Garden Ideas
If you love the natural look and enjoy sharing your space with wildlife, a woodland garden is the planting scheme you need. You don’t need a full on forest-sized space - this look is a great way of brightening up a shady border or even a pot in the shadows. It’s also low maintenance and wonderfully relaxing. Read on for our woodland garden ideas, tips and plant suggestions.
- Where to plant a woodland garden
- Designing your woodland garden
- Forest floor
- Using natural materials
- Welcoming wildlife
Where to plant a woodland garden
The ideal conditions for a woodland garden are damp, waterlogged soil and cool, shady corners - pretty much the opposite of most planting schemes! This look is a brilliant way of making the most of a garden with limited sun, in which most popular perennials would struggle. You can even make a mini woodland patch underneath any deciduous trees you already have.
How to design your woodland garden
A natural forest consists of layers of woodland plants, starting from the tree canopy right down to the forest floor. Let’s take it from the top…
The top layer of a woodland is the trees - they’re the framework around which your woodland garden will be built, providing height and structure as well as attracting the birds. You might already have some in your garden, but make sure they’re deciduous before you start planting under them, as evergreens won’t let that all important dappled shade through that your plants and bulbs will need to flower in spring. For instant impact, buy trees that are at least two years old, which will establish and grow quickly in your garden. Those with light canopies are the best choices, such as birches, rowans, crabapples and hazel trees (twisted hazels look suitably wild and wonderful!). If your existing trees are on the more dense side, you can remove the lower branches to ‘crown lift’ them and let more light filter down to the lower levels.
The middle layer of your woodland garden is made up of medium sized plants like bushes and climbers. In the wild, this might include brambles, honeysuckle and dog roses. To recreate the look (but not the out of control mess!) go for evergreen and flowering shrubs that won’t mind a bit of shade. Camellias, Rhododendrons, Azalea and Viburnum are all great choices here. If you don’t have a lot of space to grow shrubs under your trees, you can still add some atmospheric climbers like honeysuckle, ivy and jasmine which will soften the edges of your garden boundaries, providing colour, scent and tying everything together - they look fantastic trained up the trunks of trees.
The forest floor
This is the lowest level, where spreading groundcover plants and bulbs will form a colourful carpet and minibeasts will gladly make their homes. Pick UK native wildflowers - bluebells and crocuses are a must - and make sure you’ve got plenty of year-round interest with foliage plants including hostas, heucheras and grasses. Ferns bring instant woodland vibes and will grow happily in the shadiest corners and naturally self-seeding flowers like foxgloves will quickly form colonies, giving your garden that perfect natural feel as well as delighting pollinators. Finally, cover your forest floor with colour by adding low growing hardy geraniums, brunnera and alchemilla - they’ll keep weeds under control so you don’t have to!
Don’t forget to add a seating area if you have the space, using natural materials like stone, logs and reclaimed wood to blend in with your personal forest - the more weathered the better! If you’re making a boundary, a hedge made of wildflowers or fruit and nut plants is a great way of bringing more wild charm into your garden without sacrificing space.
Just add wildlife
You’ve got your cool, shady woodland and a quiet place to sit - now all you need is the sound of birdsong in the trees. When you want to attract feathered friends to your garden, the golden rule is ‘build it and they will come’. Put up nesting boxes and bird feeders on your mature trees and fences, stack rotting logs for insects to live in and plant trees with berries - rowan is a firm favourite!