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Inspiring ideas for woodland gardens

A lush green woodland glade is the perfect place to relax and unwind – and even the smallest garden can evoke that forest feeling…

Create a green haven

The sense of enclosure and protection offered by a woodland garden is a sure-fire shortcut to a relaxing vibe. It’s one of the most immersive types of garden, offering layers of soft green foliage to soothe mind and spirit. Use a mix of evergreen and deciduous plants to ensure year-round appeal.

Allow room to breathe and see

What’s the key to keeping it looking like a garden and not just an overgrown mess? One of the most effective techniques is to ‘crown lift’ trees and large shrubs – by removing lower branches, you allow more sunlight through, allowing woodland plants space to thrive in the dappled light and be seen in all their glory.

Make a place to sit and enjoy it

Humans can benefit from shade too, especially on a hot summer’s day. Place chairs or benches in inviting spots so you can cool down and appreciate the greenery all around you. Woodland gardens are great for wildlife – so you may be lucky enough to have birdsong to enjoy or other creatures to watch.

Lead the eye

If you’ve got the space, put in a meandering path to tempt you to explore – with gentle curves leading out of sight, who wouldn’t want to follow this delightful woodland path? This one uses gravel, but bark chips work especially well, providing natural softness underfoot.

Choose trees with light canopies

Trees with light canopies such as these silver birches are ideal for woodland gardens, as they have height and structure but don’t overwhelm the other plants. Rowans (Sorbus), crab apples (Malus) and hazels (Corylus) work well too. If your garden is treeless, you can buy semi-mature trees to add an instant woodland effect.

Grow with the flow

Woodland gardens are the perfect places to loosen our grip on nature, allowing plants such as spring bulbs to naturalise, forming wonderful spectacles of flowers and foliage. This more relaxed approach means less work – so everyone’s a winner!

Go for shady characters

It's not just spring bulbs that enjoy the shade and shelter of a woodland garden – many other plants including these hostas, along with ferns and many perennials will too. Picking plants that actively thrive in lower light levels, along with generous watering in their first season, is a key step to success when making a woodland garden.

Go native

Many of our favourite wildflowers are actually native woodland plants. They’re superbly adapted to growing under trees and in shady spots – try foxgloves, primroses and bluebells. Let them seed around (don’t cut the spent flowerheads off) to give an authentic natural woodland feel.

Use contrasting forms

In this woodland-inspired planting scheme, the intricate shapes of ferns mingle with strappy grasses and rounded euphorbias to create a green tapestry beneath a magnolia tree which has had its lower branches removed. This two-layered planting then allows views through to a secluded seating area.

Embrace the seasons

Woodland gardens offer lots of opportunity for us to enjoy different seasons. In winter the first bulbs – snowdrops and aconites – burst forth beneath bare stems; their trickle becomes a flood in spring as carpets of bluebells and other bulbs erupt from the woodland floor. Summer sees the canopy close over to create a living green roof which then fades to gold, red and brown as the year ends.

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.