The Woodland Garden

Are you lamenting because none of your favorite flowers will grow in that particular shady spot, or because your lawn has become more of a moss garden under that huge tree? Your cause for suffering can just as easily be reason to celebrate. One of my alltime favorite types of gardens is the woodland garden. While not normally as showy as an english garden, for example, the woodland garden relies on form and texture and subtle variation in leaf color to provide dynamic interest. Many plants are specifically suited to this setting and thrive here. The key to woodland gardening is to think in layers, which will create a lush and vibrant scene. The tall trees provide the top layer, and understory trees such as dogwood, redbud, and shadblow fill in nicely at the mid level. Shrubs, then perennials, bulbs, groundcovers, and a few choice vines complete the tapsetry.

One medium to large tree is enough to start a small woodland garden, and if you are lucky enough to own a whole woodlot, consider the awesome garden possibilities before you start cutting! Shade is one of the prerequisites for a woodland garden. Proper soil is the other. MOST of the plants that grow in woodland conditions are adapted to soil which has had the benefit of many generations of leaf-fall and decomposition: namely, dark, rich, humusy soil. If your soil is more on the sandy or clayey side, not to worry, there are remedies. For the smaller areas, the easiest remedy would be to order a load of loamy soil. One yard of soil will cover 100 sq.ft. to a 3" depth, which is about right for our purposes. If importing soil is cost prohibitive, good results can still be achieved by incorporating compost and organic material. Generally incorporating as much compost and OM as possible will improve clay and sand soils and create good conditions for woodland plants. You may or may not want to till in the compost the first year, depending on a few things, including tree roots. After the first year, several inches of well composted organic matter should be added every year, and it is not necessary to till at all. This will simulate natural forest conditions and create lush healthy plants.

Springtime is the highpoint of the woodland flower display. Woodland bulbs can be among some of the earliest to show and create a spectacular show. Most woodland wildflowers, shrubs, and trees are also spring-bloomers. Having said this, late summer and fall can hold hidden charms as well, as is evidenced in the next 2 photos below.

Woodland gardening is a great opportunity for sustainable landscaping. There are many native species to choose from, as well as a number of unique non-invasive non-natives which you may want to use sparingly for their interesting textures and forms. Creating a layered garden also creates the perfect habitat for attracting many types of wildife, from birds to toads and salamanders and a wide variety of beneficial insects. Woodland gardens like to be slightly moist, but are also very good at conserving water, and all the shade helps keep the ground and air under the canopy cool. Occasional and minimal watering should be sufficient, and plant selection can be tailored for especially dry shady spots.

a SHORT LIST of native woodland plants: