Helen Keller believed that a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass was more welcoming than the most luxurious Persian rug. Her sensate world came alive in nature.
The truth is, we all become more enlivened in a natural landscape. One way to bring nature closer is to plant a woodland garden.
Woodland gardens are inspired by our deciduous forest biome. In nature, individual tree canopies overlap and interlink, forming a more or less continuous canopy that shades the ground to varying degrees.
However, woodlands are not just trees.
The Ultimate Shade Garden
Depending on the amount of light reaching the ground through the tree canopy, there will be a great variety of other plants. These will include mosses, ferns, and lichens, as well as small flowering herbs, grasses, and shrubs.
All of the different types of plants offer a wide range of food choices for animal life. These might include invertebrates such as aphids and leaf miners. Butterfly caterpillars find nutrients in grasses and herbs on the woodland floor, while deer browse on tender shoots and young saplings.
A successful woodland garden is easy to care for since it requires only minimal weeding and watering. Using native plants in a woodland garden design will cut down on maintenance even further.
Light Requirements for Woodland Gardens
Before planting, take time to assess the light levels on your site.
Deciduous trees let light through to the forest floor. The more light available beneath the trees, the greater the number of other plant species which will also be able to grow within the woodland. Plants that grow under deciduous trees receive more direct and indirect sunlight than plants growing under evergreen trees. Other understory plants manage to capture enough light even in locations with no direct sunlight.
Soil is another important component to consider. Decaying leaves of deciduous trees provide nutrients and an overwintering habitat for many beneficial creatures, such as butterflies, moths, frogs, salamanders, and ground-nesting birds.
Light Levels for Woodland Gardens
Light levels can increase depending on the time of year. Adding small to medium-sized deciduous trees will add dappled shade to ensure plants will tolerate fluctuating light levels.
You can mimic this in your shady landscape by adding organic matter: compost, leaf mold, or very well-aged natural hardwood bark. It is best to allow the leaves to rest on the ground in the fall, thereby nourishing the soil and its inhabitants.
Shade Garden Design
Woodland gardens are the perfect antidote to invasive plants.
If you are ready to start designing your garden, take your inspiration from natural woodland. In nature, a woodland’s distinguishing feature is its verticality: successive layers of greenery ranging from tall trees to small trees, to bushes, and finally, to ground-level foliage.
There are many suitable plants for woodland gardens. Woody and herbaceous species can create visual interest in the form of delicate blossoms, seeds, or interesting bark patterns. Climbing plants can wind their way through trees and shrubs, and shade-tolerant herbaceous plants and bulbs can grow on the woodland floor.
A woodland garden may take several years to take shape, but the reward is worth it: your own plot of welcoming pine needles and spongy earth.