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English forest design for front garden.

At the front of my house I have a small garden which measures 7 x 4 metres (23 x 13 feet). It is a North facing garden which means that in the summer months the front of it gets partial sunshine (the west facing fence gets sunshine in the late afternoon for a few hours.

I intend to strip the grass and other weeds from it first before planting. I have tried to turn the soil with a spade and sift throgh it by hand removing the grass and other roots which is taking quite a long time. I feared that if I used  a rotivator all it will do is break the roots into smaller pieces and they would sprout again at the first opportunity. Am I right thinking this?

In terms of design I have thought to plant the whole surface with hundreds of bulbs, then plant a few scattered tree ferns (in a non symetrical way) and maybe one tree as a focal point. In each corner I'm thinking of planting clusters of various ferns.

The plants I intend to use include:

Bluebells, snowdrops, lily of the valley, crocus

Hostas, various ferns, tree ferns

In terms of the focal tree an oak one would have been nice to create a proper English forest look but I do realise that it would be overkill considering the size of the front garden.


I am quite keen on using an Acer Palmatum Sango Kaku:

I am aware though that it may be more suitable for a Japanese garden so thought to ask people's ideas regarding using it? Would it "fit in" with the rest of the plants being used? Or would it look too much out of place?


Any thoughts are appreciated.




  • mdw84mdw84 Posts: 105

    Your design sounds great and has given me inspiration for my own front garden which is is exactly the same in size and siting.  Acers have such versatile uses, I have 2 varieties and my back garden in a mix of all sorts, for example lots of climbers, acers, fuschias, cannas, gunnera, bamboo (in pots), lillies etc.  

    My only suggestion would be to choose an acer that is more suited to shade, this variety prefers full sun, apart from that, go for an acer.

    Another thing to think of is, if you intend to look out of a window that is central to the garden, don't plant your focal tree "Acer" in the centre, I had a magnolia when I moved in planted in the centre and it drove me nuts as I felt that it was in the way (also goodness knows why someone planted a magnolia in a north facing facing

  • fidgetbonesfidgetbones Posts: 16,235

    I don't want to be a spoilsport, but I wouldn't put tree ferns in your front garden unless you have 24 hour security. image

    You don't stop doing new things because you get old, you get old because you stop doing new things. <3
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,208

    I agree about tree ferns and they're also difficult to get through winter without wrapping them up in unsightly fleece and straw.   It would also be overkill.  I have a bed out the front which measures 7 x 5 metres and can't imagine fitting even one tree fern in it as their foliage spreads so wide when mature.   They would also make it very dark in the room that overlooks this bed.

    I should think native ferns and similar types would be fine for this situation and aspect and would give great foliage contrast to the hostas, especially if you go for the big boys like golden Sum and Substance hosta or blue and gold streaked June.   These can take a year or two to get to mature size so give them plenty of space and make sure the soil is improved with moisture retentive garden compost and/or well rotted manure.    You could also add aquilegias and Japanese anemones to extend the season of colour from the bulbs.  

    Sangko Kaku is a very good acer and the red stems would make an interesting focal point through winter until the new foliage emerges and gives colour through to autumn.   I do have one of these in my bed and it's lovely in colour and form.

    One word of warning.  This bed is going to be a slug fest in spring so start early with wildlife friendly slug pellets on Valentine's Day (easy to remember) and every week or two so you get the perishers as they emerge from hibernation or hatch and before they feed and breed.

    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • John HardingJohn Harding Posts: 497

    Be aware that an Oak or any other tree that will grow large over time will develop a massive root system that will undermine the foundations of any building close by. The root system will be at least as large as the canopy and as the tree grows it will take water from the ground. The rate of transpiration during the summer months can be awesome and loss of underground moisture can cause subsidence to adjacent buildings if they are too close.

  • WelshonionWelshonion Posts: 3,114

    When you say 'front' do you mean between you and the road or where you sit out?

    Is it 13 ft deep and the width of the house?  If it is only 13 ft deep it is too shallow for an oak tree or pretty well any tree.

  • greenlovegreenlove Posts: 164

    Thank you very much for the replies everyone. Let me clarify first that I do not intend to plant Oak or any other large growning tree in the front garden. I was merely using oak as an example.

    The front garden originally was covered in turf grass and I have turned with a fork 3/4 of the area and have managed to clear the roots carefully one by one. A painful job but I'd rather do it properly from the beginning rather than pay for my mistakes later.

    Where i am is a nice area but then again you can never be certain now-a-days so I have taken on board the comments regarding the tree ferns. Although sad about it I have decided to not include them in the design. Will replace them with "rooted" type of ferns instead (large varieties).

    I'll also stack up on slug pellets.

    The design will also incoporate quite a few pieces of various sizes of stone, boulders and pebbles so that it will look like the plants are growing on a dried up river bed in a valley somewhere.

    I hasve also got two large (jagged) tree stumps which after being in the centre of a balzing fire have charcoaled nicely and as a result will form a lovely background and give the place a more natural look if they were "dumped" in it and ferns and hostas had over time "naturally" grown around them.

    The acer tree will not be central but instead I will follow the same rule that photographers use when taking pictures (i.e. the tree will be slightly to one side). Is Sango Kaku definitely a variety that I can't use? The front garden does get 2-3 hours of direct sun per day (in summer). Will that not be sufficient? The reason I ask is because i am very fond of that particular variety and it will add some colour to the garden especially in winter (with its bright red stems).

    I have also been thinking about the ground cover problem (when the various bulb plants are dormant or have died). I think that because of the relatively small size of the garden if I use a dried river bed design with ferns and hostas scattered around it then it will still look nice even when the bulb plants are not active.


    End of essayimage


  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,208

    You rplan sound good to me.   Sango Kaku should be fine in this situation.  See here -

    Your ferns and hostas will disappear in winter so the stones and stumps will add interest but you could maybe consider some bergenia as these keep their foliage over winter and would help with ground cover -  There is a white flowered version too.

    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • greenlovegreenlove Posts: 164

    Bergenias sound like a good option for a bit of colour in winter.


    Should I use some anti weed cloth as well? If so is there a specific one that is recommended? I did read somewhere that the anti weed fleece can sometimes "suffocate" the soil and kill any good bacteria in it.

  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,208

    I wouldn't.   When I first planted my 7 x 5 metre bed I used weed suppressant membrane and planted a mix of hostas, acers and grasses through it and then found them being strangled as they wanted to expand over the years.   I ended up lifting the lot and transplanting the hostas and grasses and now have a rose bed under planted with geranium macrorhizum and lavenders with several clematis on obelisks and bulbs and aquilegias for spring colour.   The Sango Kaku is in the west corner sheltered from prevailing westerly winds and afternoon sun by a trellis with a climbing rose and another clematis.

    I do have to weed it now but I've learned my lesson and don't use membrane anywhere now except for gravel or chipped bark paths.

    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • greenlovegreenlove Posts: 164

    Ok, no weed suppressant membrane. Lilly of the valley is also off the list due to it being quite poisonous and invading plant. I have two little daughters who are in the phase of "picking flowers" and I have no intention of putting them at risk of poisoning. When they grow up enough to understand I may add some pots of lily of the valley (but have no intention of planting it in the garden soil).

    Have ordered the Sango Kaku acer (shown in the link in the first post) and also 8 pots (2l) of evergreen ferns. Will add more varieties of ferns as I go along.

    The english bluebells, crocus and snow drops should arrive around Aug-Sep period.

    Two questions:

    1. Does anyone know when hostas go on offer?

    2. Does any one know a good (service and price) place where to buy pebbles, cobbles and boulders (rounded ones with which to create the riverbed)?

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