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8 design ideas for a woodland garden

Stephanie Donaldson
·5-min read
Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library
Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library

Woodland garden designs attract and nurture wildlife, celebrate nature in all its haphazard glory and can be lower maintenance than a more manicured, formal style of garden.

Choosing the right ground cover full of wildflowers, creating narrow pathways through areas of wild, and actively encouraging animals by creating habitats and putting up bird feeders are the first steps.

Replicating the look, sounds and atmosphere of a woodland in your garden can help ensure your outdoor space is peaceful, relaxed and full of birdsong.

Here are eight ways to create a woodland garden at home.

1. Ground cover

Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library
Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library

Bulbs, shade-loving perennials, biennials and ferns form the carpet of your woodland garden. With the right soil conditions and light, plants will self-seed until the area is covered with flowers in spring, especially if you grow native wildflowers such as English bluebells, wood anemones, primroses and foxgloves. Remove weeds and add copious quantities of compost or leaf mould to impoverished soils before planting.

Read: 31 of the best garden plants and evergreen shrubs for shade

2. Modern woodland

Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living
Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living

Rustic doesn’t suit every garden, but the basic principles of woodland gardening are the same in a more sophisticated setting and can transform a shady town garden from a problem into an asset. Use a restrained palette of greens or shades of a single colour for ground cover planting. Carefully trained or cloud-pruned trees can form the canopy and topiaried box the understorey. For features and hard landscaping, use modern interpretations of traditional materials.

3. Gateways and boundaries

Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Michelle Garrett|GAP Photos/Mark Bolton
Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Michelle Garrett|GAP Photos/Mark Bolton

Weathered wooden gates look most appropriate in a woodland setting – old ones can be found at reclamation yards or you could have a new one made from cleft oak that will not take long to develop a patina of age. To construct boundaries, laid hedges, dry-stone walls and stacked logs are all suitably rustic. If your woodland garden is in a built-up area, use boundaries to create a sense of enclosure; if it borders open countryside, find a way to incorporate or honour some of the views.

Read:

4. Understorey

Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|MMGI / Marianne Majerus
Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|MMGI / Marianne Majerus

This is the medium-sized growth and includes bushes and climbers. In natural woodland this area is often colonised by brambles and honeysuckle. In cultivated woodland, evergreen and flowering shrubs suitable for dappled shade (such as camellias and hydrangeas) can be grown alongside climbers trained to scramble up the tree trunks. Rejuvenate existing straggly shrubs by cutting them back hard, mulching and soaking thoroughly.

When planting new shrubs, dig large holes, add compost and bone meal, and water welland regularly during the first summer. If establishing a small woodland patch beneath a single tree there may not be space for shrubs, but include a climber or two, planted at least a metre away from the trunk.

Read:

5. Wildlife

Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Michelle Garrett
Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Michelle Garrett

A woodland garden provides food, shelter and nesting places for many birds as well as beneficial insects. Encourage them to take up residence by including trees and bushes with berries, putting up nesting boxes and bird feeders and stacking logs for hibernating insects and small mammals. Allow weeds to grow that you might not countenance elsewhere in the garden – nettles for the butterflies, ivy as a source of food for birds and insects and, if room, a bramble patch.

Read:

6. Furniture

Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library
Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library

Whether you choose a simple plank bench or something more elaborate, timber seats and tables will look very much at home beneath a tree or in a clearing. If there is managed woodland in your area, you may be able to source a locally made piece of furniture. Think carefully about positioning – site tables and chairs where you can make the most of the dappled sunlight, for example, or enjoy the scent of a favourite plant.

SHOP GARDEN FURNITURE

7. Rustic retreats

Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|living4media
Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|living4media

Whether it’s a glorified shed or a luxurious hideaway, a woodland retreat works best when it blends subtly with its surroundings. Use natural materials and protect the timber with environmentally friendly wood stains rather than paints. A colourful building might look quite jolly in summer among all the greenery, but could appear inappropriately brash in winter. A turf roof can greatly enhance (and also insulate) a building, but it does need a fair amount of sun to thrive. To get the most use from your retreat, position it to catch the sun’s rays.

8. Paths

Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Richard Bloom
Photo credit: Glorious Gardens, by Country Living|Richard Bloom

When a woodland garden is large enough to wander through, it needs a path to prevent ground-cover plants from being trampled underfoot. Keep the design fairly simple with bark or woody shreddings, edged with logs to define the route. If the path winds beneath trees, it is best to avoid stone, brick or sleepers as they can become dangerously slippery, while gravel or stones look rather messy once the leaves begin to fall. Whether your woodland garden is large or small, it is best to plant the earliest spring flowers close to the path so that you can admire them close up without having to get your feet wet and muddy.

Looking for some potting shed inspiration? Country Living has launched gorgeous cottage-style sheds and summerhouses at Homebase – perfect for outdoor home offices. Coming in aurora green and thorpe grey, they're perfect for every garden scheme. MORE INFO

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