Forum home Garden design

How to design a woodland garden?

I'm a novice gardener, just moved into a new home with a small garden and quarter acre patch of woodland. I'd like to extend the garden out into the woodland and make the whole area more accessible, enjoyable and kid friendly.

I've been reading the prevalent gardening advice about sit down and get to know the space, test the soil, etc. but then I get stuck. Picking a theme, colours, matching the house, etc. It's a woodland, I don't want it to match my modern house. I'd also like it to keep the theme of 'woodland'.

It's got a small pond and wood shed at the top. It's north facing in the north of England. It leads away from the house in a long rectangle down a slight slope to a larger pond and stream at the bottom.

We've got 5 trees down with the storms, so we need to make some decisions.

I'd really like to shape a pathway though the space, create some things for the kids, space to sit, and some wildlife habitats.

Where do I go for information on woodland gardening? Are there any:
- Good books
- Woodland gardens in the north I should visit
- Websites for woodland gardening
- Good woodland garden design software 

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed really and the books I have don't really cover what I need.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 49,111
    If you have some photos of the site, that will help with advice. 
    It might seem daunting, but it's also a great chance to do something you can enjoy for years to come.  :)
    Books, the internet and any gardening programmes you can find to watch are good, but it can be information overload. 
    My advice would be to keep it simple. Start with any hard landscaping, just as you would with a standard garden. The only difference is that a woodland garden's 'hard landscaping' mainly comes  from the planting. Trees and shrubs.  :)
    Along with that is pathways, leading to or into different areas, and a natural look may suit better - bark or even gravel. Hard surfaces in shade are a nightmare as they become treacherous. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 20,436
    I visited an NGS garden last year which had a woodland bit in it. They had made paths from woodchips and bark and planted ferns and other shade loving plants. The owner told me that they had also planted a lot of snowdrops and daffodils.

    I'm in Norfolk so Beth Chatto's garden isn't too far for me, although it probably is for you. There is a woodland garden, you could probably look it up.
    Dordogne and Norfolk
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 20,436
    I've just looked it up. There are photos if you Google them and Beth Chatto has written a book on woodland gardens.
    Dordogne and Norfolk
  • punkdocpunkdoc Sheffield, Derbyshire border.Posts: 13,027
    I can thoroughly recommend Beth Chatto's book, I have used it extensively when planting my woodland.
    There are ashtrays of emulsion,
    for the fag ends of the aristocracy.
  • Bee witchedBee witched Scottish BordersPosts: 1,098
    Hi @CumbrianRed,

    Welcome to the Forum.
    A couple of years ago we were able to buy some woodland next to our existing garden, so I'm on the same journey as you.
    We've also had some trees down, and have had to take out 5 diseased ash trees.
    So plenty of firewood, and we got our tree surgeon to chip all the thinner branches, and will use the chips for woodland paths.
    We were lucky to inherit loads of native snowdrops and bluebells, but it you haven't got any you can buy in bulk from companies like

    I'll be adding a few more trees .... probably some Rowans, and I've got some native shrubs including holly and hazels to go in. I've also got 3 guelder rose shrubs, which are not really native to Scotland but I think will look OK.

    Around my existing garden I've got plenty of ferns - Dryopteris filix-mas, so I'll lift a few and dot them along the paths.

    There are some really big hefty pieces of oak which we'll use for sitting on ... not that I'll have much time for that!

    Bee x
    Bees must gather nectar from two million flowers to make one pound of honey   
  • Second vote for Martin Crawford's book.

    Our kids love foraging so we have lots of edibles in the garden. Alan Carter's website has really useful stuff, especially if you are northern.

  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 7,701
    I was at RHS Harlow Carr yesterday. Their woodland area has had the under-storey thinned out a lot in recent years, so under and between the larger trees there are smaller trees, shrubs like rhododendrons, witch hazels, magnolias etc, lots of bulbs coming through, and shady-loving perennials in the clearings. . They have mostly hard-surface paths, for low maintenance and accessibility I think, but bark looks nice for a private garden with not nearly so much footfall.
  • Thank you everyone. That's been really helpful.

    I'll have a look at those plant and book recommendations.

    I'll also pop out and take a couple of photos this week.

    Just a quick question in the mean time. Can we plant trees in the wooded area, or will they struggle to grow in the reduced light?

    We'd love to plant apple, cherry and damson for the kids and wildlife.
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 49,111
    They would need reasonable light, so they wouldn't be suitable for putting into the woodland area.
    Without seeing photos of your layout though, it's very difficult to say where the best place for them would be.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

Sign In or Register to comment.