Woodland garden design

Creating a woodland garden

An area devoted to a wild or woodland garden is an unusual feature, but if space allows it can be both satisfying to develop and extremely attractive. It does not mean, as the name might suggest, that it is simply an area where nature has been allowed to take over and run riot: without the control of a gardener, such gardens soon become unruly and unattractive.

In order to create a woodland atmosphere in a given area, the site must first be planted out with trees and shrubs. These have to be chosen carefully, for they must be the right size for the space available, which, in turn, has to be in correct proportion to the over-all garden. Sometimes an existing island bed of shrubs can be adapted for this purpose, and will be all the more effective if it has a curving grass path (or better still, one of well-trodden peaty soil or leaf-mould) running through it. One end of this path should not be visible from the other.

If the garden were once part of a larger, established one, it may contain a rough area of wild trees and shrubs, which would form the ideal basis for a woodland garden. A neglected garden may well have such plants as a group of sapling elms that could act as a nucleus round which to create the woodland garden as a whole.
The great charm of a wild or woodland garden is that its flowers and plants can be allowed to grow freely in an informal fashion. Ideally, it should be positioned as far as possible from the house, beyond the lawn and laid-out borders, because it then makes the garden as a whole seem to have indefinable limits.

In order to keep a natural environment, paths should not have any kind of kerbing, such as brick or stone, and plants near the edges of paths should be allowed to grow over them. In the same way, plants should be allowed to grow over the edges of beds -which should, of course, be irregular in shape. If paths can be made with slight undulations, so much the better, but this will not be possible if water collects in the hollows or, in the case of a grass path, if the humps are scarred when the grass is cut.

Seeds can be sown broadcast in woodland or wild gardens and allowed to germinate naturally, and the packets of assorted wild plant seeds now available from seeds men are particularly appropriate for this purpose. Primroses are excellent for woodland areas, because, if left undisturbed, they hybridize naturally and produce a beautiful display in succeeding years. Bluebells, too, find a woodland garden ideal.

The final choice of plants will depend, of course, on the nature of the soil and the prevalent conditions, but it is important for the soil to contain plenty of leafmould, as this is natural for all woodland plants. Trees are an essential, contributing beauty and provide shade for the shade-loving plants that will flourish at their feet. Their fallen leaves and branches give protection from the effects of frost.

On most ordinary soils, or damp and heavy ground, Salix alba ‘Sericea’ and 5. incana are good choices, and so, too, is the wild 5. caprea, the well-known Palm or Pussy Willow. Another Willow of outstanding beauty is S. alba ‘Vitellina’, which, provided that it is pruned to the ground towards the end of March each year, puts up a wonderful winter show with its brilliant, sealing-wax-red bark.

The red bark of Cornus alba ‘Westonbirt’ also gives winter colour and is well complemented by its close relative, C. stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ which contributes colour to the winter scene from its yellow bark.