The Enchanting Woodland Garden


Have you ever thought of a woodland garden?  A woodland garden is a natural garden with vines and canopies. This type of garden is distinguished by layers, canopies and ground cover. I found this type of garden interesting since I live on 20 wooded acres and I can incorporate some of these ideas, where some spots on our property could use some sprucing up. I love different trails, tunnel made with folage and sitting areas for relaxation. Even though most of the plants used in a shade garden are used in a woodland garden, a shade garden is different from a woodland garden. The woodland garden is supposed to mimic the woodlands. We will discuss how to design a woodland garden, discuss the woodland plant list and how to maintain your woodland garden.Woodland Garden path

How to Design a Woodland Garden

The best way to get ideas for a woodland garden is to look at nature itself. Take a walk in the woods and look to see how the different plants layer themselves and the canopies that the woodland areas have. Also take into consideration the area you want to have the woodland garden. What is currently growing there, how is the soil drainage and how much sun is the spot getting. If it’s mostly shaded you will want to get plants for shade or if you get some sun, you can get plants for partly sunny to shade. Once you have decided on the spot, clear it out. Remove any debris, plants that you don’t want there and roots that might be in the way. In case you run into poison ivy or poison oak, make sure you dress appropriately when clearing the section, you might need to remove this type of plant. You don’t want to get infected with this itchy plant. Wooded Rock Garden

When designing a woodland garden, remember how it is in nature, nothing is in a straight line and neither should this garden. Have different heights of plants, using understory plants and ground cover.  If you plan to have a walkway or stepping stones, this would be the time to lay that down. It is helpful to use chalk or a hose to layout where you want to plant the plants.

Before you just start planting them in the ground, arrange the plants while they are still in their containers to get an idea of where you want to plant them. Prepare the soil with compost, then dig your holes and plant the plants. Add the small trees and shrubs first, then add the understory plants, add some perennials for shade will add a nice touch. For additional touches after the plants are in the ground you can add mulch that is bark for natural look, include a bird bath or add a bench or other sitting area furniture.

Woodland Garden Plant List

Earlier in the post I mentioned understory plants a couple times. An understory plant is part of the forest made up of shrubs, herbaceous plants, mosses, lichens, grasses and including small trees. While the forest tends to be focused on the big trees, most of the diversity found in woodland plants is in the understory. It is also the warm, damp and sheltered layer below the leafy tree canopy. Where the rain drips through the canopy, but only sparkles of sunlight gets through. The Large leaf shrubs that like the warmth, shade and moisture grow there.

wildflowersWhen selecting plants for your woodland garden, remember to make sure you plant native to your area and hardiness zone, to ensure the health and happiness of your woodland garden.  Here is a list of plants that can be added to any woodland garden.

Ground Cover

  • Ajuga – aka; Bugleweed, well drained soil, can handle full sun to complete shade, Zone 4 thru 10
  • English Ivy – Does well in complete shade, Zone 4 thru 9
  • Lily of the Valley – prefer’s shade, Zone 3 thru 9
  • Liriope – full sun to part shade, Zone 4 thru 10
  • Moss – prefer shade but can survive in full sun, there is moss for different zones. Check before buying
  • Vinca – Does well in full shade and full sun, Zone 4 thru 9
  • Virginia Creeper – wide range of soil tolerance, Zone 3 thru 9

Perennials and Bulbs

  • Anemone – like slightly acidic soil, moist during growth and bloom, Zone 3 thru 7
  • Bleeding heart – Neutral soil, Early spring flower, then dormant until next spring. Mostly shade, Zone 3 thru 9
  • Blue-eyed grass – well drained soil, full sun and partial sun, Zone 7 thru 8
  • Bloodroot – moist to wet soil, part shade to shade, Zone 3 thru 8
  • Calla lilies – moist well drained soil, full sun or partial shade, Zone 8 thru 10
  • Campanula – Purple bell flowers need full sunlight, well drained soil, Zone 4 and up, possibly 3
  • Cast Iron plant – keep out of direct sunlight, don’t over water, only when top inch is dry, Zone 7b to on up
  • Columbine – well drained soil, stays evenly moist, not boggy, sun or light shade, Zone 3 thru 9
  • Coralberry – tolerant to wide range of soil including clay and dry soil, full sun to part shade, Zone 1 thru 7
  • Elephant ear – water when needed, full sun to partial sun, Zone 8 thru 11 as perennial lower zone, as annual or houseplant
  • Dutchman’s breeches – acidic, moist soil, same care as the bleeding heart, Zone 3 thru 7
  • Ferns – like open shade of mature trees, Zone 4 thru 8, some withstand zone 2 and zone 10
  • Foamflower – cool moist with partial shade, will tolerate light sun or full shade, Zone 3 thru 8
  • Ginger – warm humid locations, Zone 9 thru 12
  • Goldenrod – prefers full sun, Zone 4 thru 9
  • Heuchera coral bells – prefers partial shade, slightly acidic soil, Zone 3 thru 9
  • Hosta – organic rich soil, slightly acidic, partial shade, some varieties need more sun, Zone 3 thru 9
  • Mayapple – thrive in dry semi shaded conditions, Zone 4 thru 8
  • Phlox – loves the sun, soil moist but well draining, Zone 4 thru 8
  • Trillium – keep soil moist, not soggy, get from reputable nursery, some of these wildflowers are endangered if you try to transplant. These plants don’t flower for 4 to 5 years. Zone 4 thru 9
  • Tuberous begonia – well drained soil, lightly shaded area, Zone 8 thru 11 as a perennial, Zones 3 thru 7 as an annual or bring indoors.
  • Violet – moist well drained soil, light shade but do well in sun, Zone 3 thru 9
  • Watsonia – well drained soil, likes warm climate, Zone 8 thru 10
  • Wood lily – rich well drained soil, keep from standing in water or bulbs will rot, will thrive in sun or shade, Zone 4 thru 8
  • Wild geraniums – moist soil when first planted, drought tolerant, full sun to shade, Zone 3 thru 9 woodland garden with fence

Trees and Small Shrubs

  • Azalea – Full sun or light shade – require acidic soil, Zone varies hardiness – find for your zone
  • Birch – wet, well drained soil, Zone 2 thru 6
  • Flowering dogwood – well drained soil and does well in sun or shade, Zone 5 thru 9
  • Holly – need male & female, many varieties, Zone 3 thru 10
  • Hydrangea – Sun or light shade – require acidic soil, Zone varies in hardiness – find for your zone
  • Japanese maple – thrives in full sun but happy with some shade, Zone 5 thru 8
  • Magnolia – Different types and hardiness zones. Make sure you get one for your zone

Woodland plants are considered dry shade plants because they compete for water with the tree’s root system, and get limited sun. If you are considering transplanting plants already on your property to the woodland garden, keep in mind some don’t transplant easily. While ferns will, some plant just won’t thrive. There are some native plants and flowers that are protected by national and state laws.

Maintaining your Woodland Garden

Using native plants in your woodland garden will help keep maintenance low. The new plants for the first year may require some attention but once established the up keep will be minimal. Using mulch will help keep the moisture for the plants and keep weeds away. To minimize the need to fertilize, use an organic or humus mulch. Just the occasional pruning and deadheading of shrubs and flowers once in a while is all that is needed. Remember you are trying to make it look natural like the woodland areas.

Blue Bell flowers

Happy Planting!

Having a woodland garden takes some patience. It will take a couple growing seasons to take shape. Proper planning ahead of time is key to a successful wooded garden, knowing when the sun hits and where the shade is to plant the plants accordingly to their needs. The best part of this type of gardening is there are no rules, just like cottage gardening. Be creative when creating your woodland garden, none of them will be the same. It will be your own signature woodland garden!  Bring a little woods to your yard.

Do you have a woodland garden?

Are you thinking about starting a woodland garden?

Leave a comment below and tell me your plans or ask any gardening questions!



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8 thoughts on “The Enchanting Woodland Garden”

  1. Well this has certainly been the most descriptive article that I have had and been able to read about the enchanting Woodland garden. I really appreciate the amount of detail that you’ve included, I decided to browser on your site and I like everything you write about. I have bookmarked it and I will be coming back in the future for more great information

  2. The pictures in The Enchanting Woodland Garden article really show the fairytale image of the forest, I can imagine the fairytale characters wandering these paths among these beautiful flowers. Are these photos from your woodland garden?
    Thanks for all the great tips with a list of suitable flowers for planting a woodland garden. If I had more space, I would definitely want such a corner of a fairytale atmosphere.
    Friendly greeting,

    • Thank you for your comment.  Unfortunately they are not my pictures but free pictures from the internet.  I plan on doing some sort of woodland garden this year and I will post pictures.  Stop back for more gardening tips!

  3. Very well written article on creating a Woodland Garden from scratch and great detail on how to, particularly for beginners. A lot of thought and work has been put into describing how to plan the woodland garden, what types of plants to use, which plants need sunlight and which need more shade determining where the plants should be placed. The pictures provided are colourful and provide a good example of what an enchanted woodland garden should look like. How to care tips and how long it will take to take shape complete this extensive article.

    • Hi Helen,

      Thank you for your comments.  I have always loved the look of a woodland garden.  Our previous neighbors in the city made their backyard a woodland garden, it was awesome.  Stop by and share my website for more tips!

  4. Great article. I especially liked your tip on dressing in case of poison ivy or poison oak. My sister was clearing for her woodland garden and was NOT dressed correctly. To this day, several years later, if she gets near poison ivy she develops the rash. Since you recommend looking to nature first, for the Ground Cover, non-perennials, trees, and small shrubs, do you recommend trying to TRANSPLANT the ones you see and want to incorporate into your Woodland Garden (at least the small stuff). Or, do you recommend making a list and sourcing those plants from a vendor?

    • Hi William,

      Some plants from nature don’t like to be transplanted.  You can try it but make sure they get enough water.  We have transplanted small pine tree’s and it was iffy at times because it got so hot and we needed to water them more often.  I would still make a list of some plants to get for your woodland garden.  Thank you for your comments.


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