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Woodland Garden

A woodland garden can be a peaceful place- quiet and dappled with lots of shades of green. In the heat of the summer, it can be a respite, and in the winter, a place to plan and enjoy the bare limbs and branches of trees and deciduous shrubs. Along with the tree foliage and flowers, the tree bark can also be an attractive color and or texture.

Fatsia, leopard plant, and coleus are great shade plants.Laura Lee Rose, ©2021 Clemson Extension

Fatsia, leopard plant, and coleus are great shade plants.
Laura Lee Rose, ©2021, Clemson Extension

Create paths through any garden, but especially if you want to incorporate ephemeral wildflowers, ferns, or other tender herbs. We don’t want to step on them. We also need to get from here to there, sometimes with wheelbarrows or carts. Woodland soil is loose containing lots of humus, and even the lightest gardener’s footsteps can compact the ground beneath their feet. Construct paths using sand, edging, stone, bricks, or wood chips. Avoid using materials that will raise the pH, such as limestone or crush and run. The added benefit of using wood chips is that they are inexpensive and break down, adding organic matter to the soil. Plus, wood chip paths can be easily replaced or redesigned.

Green & gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) flowering in the woods. Laura Lee Rose, ©2021, Clemson Extension

Green & gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) flowering in the woods.
Laura Lee Rose, ©2021, Clemson Extension

Gardens need seating. Charming chairs or benches will give the weary gardener a place to rest, meditate, birdwatch, and admire his or her handiwork. These can be simple or fancy, inexpensive, or blow the whole month’s budget. Garden centers and catalogs are great places to purchase these items, and don’t forget the thrift stores and estate sales for just the right outdoor furniture for your “estate”.

My imaginary woodland garden includes some form of a shallow pool or running water. In the Low country, standing water is not a good choice. There are some low voltage solar or electric pumps that can create a pool, fountain, stream, or rivulet effect, and this would also have a bonus factor as a wildlife attraction. Birds, frogs, lizards, toads, and other waders and bathers like to have a source of fresh water. NOTE: Birdbaths and pools need to be dumped and cleaned every few days to prevent mosquito breeding.

With grading equipment, some areas could be excavated, and the soil used to elevate other beds or sections of the garden. Using focal points at those different elevations can also trick the eye into thinking there is a hill or valley. Color, size, and scale can also be used to fool the senses. Dark colors make objects seem to recede in the background while light and bright colors pop out of the landscape. A dark green fence seems farther away while the same fence painted white appears closer.

Pink native azalea. Laura Lee Rose, ©2012, Clemson Extension

Pink native azalea.
Laura Lee Rose, ©2021, Clemson Extension

Colorful fruit of American euonymus. Laura Lee Rose, ©2012, Clemson Extension

Colorful fruit of American euonymus.
Laura Lee Rose, ©2021, Clemson Extension

Whether you have an estate or small property, you can create a woodland garden. Trees are important, but the plant choices are endless. Large shrubs can be limbed up and underplanted with herbaceous material. Imagination is also a nice addition to creating an illusion. Gnomes and ceramic animals are optional.

For more information, see HGIC 1186, Green & Gold; HGIC 1094, Native Azaleas; HGIC 1063 Euonymus; HGIC 1194, Leopard Plant; HGIC 1088, Fatsia; and HGIC 1162, Coleus.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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