Advice on Creating a Woodland Garden


Even small gardens can have enough space to give you the opportunity to create a woodland garden or area. If mature trees cast shade over part of your garden, use these as the top canopy of growth for your woodland garden, and choose plants to fill up the rest of the space - you need to look for plants that will thrive in dappled shade.

Give the area something for every season, by using plants from all groups, ranging from bulbs, low growing herbaceous plants, medium height shrubs up to taller shrubs and trees. In larger gardens, you will be able to leave the grass in your woodland garden to grow longer. Even in small woodland corners, make space for a rustic seat where you can relax and enjoy this dappled shady spot on a hot day.

  • Woodland gardens don't need paved areas or paths; grass is ideal. Plan a clearing in the middle of trees and large shrubs where you will mow grass more regularly.
  • Space permitting, plan a circular woodland walk through your garden. Decide where to put a seat at a suitable point along this route.
  • Make paths through longer grass by mowing the grass closely.
  • Paths through planting and vegetation can be made using raised timber boardwalks or decking paths. Bark flakes can be used to surface paths.
  • Choose a good proportion of native plants of all types. Use cultivated varieties for increased ornamental effect.
  • If a mature tree casts too much shade over your garden, think about getting the canopy lifted by removing the lower branches. However, you must check that the tree is not protected before doing this. Negotiate with neighbours if the large trees are in their garden.
  • Make a small copse of trees - plant three or four small trees close together. They will restrict each others growth and give the feel of a wood after a few years. Suitable trees include birches and mountain ash.
  • Clear planting areas in the grass. Plant up with plants, then cover the soil with mulch. Don't make borders, but aim for planting to look as natural as possible.
  • Plant groups of taller shrubs close together that can be coppiced - that is, kept cut back to about 30 cm (12 in) above the ground every few years. Suitable plants include field maple and hazel.
  • In really small gardens, use a large shrub as the topmost canopy of a woodland corner. Choose a shrub with a reasonably open habit, such as:
    • Cotinus obovatus - the green form of smoke bush
    • Euonymus alatus - Winged spindle
    • Rhamnus alaterna 'Argenteovariegata' - Italian buckthorn
    • Cornus controversa - Wedding cake tree
    • Viburnum plicatum - Japanese snowball tree
    • Cotoneaster × watereri 'Cornubia' - Cotoneaster
  • When planting trees and shrubs into grass, keep a 1 m (40 in) diameter circle around them clear of grass and weeds. This will allow them to establish without competition. A rotary mower with the blades set high is good for doing this. You will only have to mow about three or four times a year to maintain a height of about 20-30 cm (8-12 in). Make the first cut in late spring when bulb leaves have turned yellow. A final cut in autumn will keep the grass short enough for the display of spring bulbs to be seen. Removing the clippings stops them feeding the area, reducing the growth rate of grass.
  • Rake leaves in autumn and remove to make leafmould. Use some as a natural mulch around trees and groups of larger plants, but keep mulch away from young plant stems, as it can rot them if too much comes into contact.
  • Shred trimmings from woody plants and reuse as a mulch in your woodland garden.