A Woodland Shade Garden Design Process

A Woodland Shade Garden Design Process

Very soon (July) a wedding will take place in the backyard at my in-laws home. A while back I was asked to help spruce up the area around where the ceremony will be to help improve its aesthetics for the wedding. The property itself is roughly 6 acres of mostly wooded land with a cleared area near the house for yard space. Since the wedding will take place in the back yard, my mind went toward designing a shade garden area that would be well suited to the rustic charm of the forest. I wanted to let the area blend in, yet still stand out. In the picture below you can see the area for the garden. To the left of the area is where the wedding ceremony will be.

We began by laying out stones for a small border. Some of the stones were in fact large 200-400 pound boulders that it took three of us to move (You can check out those boulders in my post: Rock’N Roll). Most of the stones were easily handled by one person and loaded into a wheelbarrow then brought to the site from the surrounding woods. Stone is an easily found commodity at their house since they live on top of limestone hills.

After the stones were placed between the trees, I positioned the plants in an arrangement that I thought looked best. We selected Autumn ferns, ‘Palace Purple’ heuchera, various hostas, coleus, and a rhododendron. The rhododendron would have been accompanied by two others but they didn’t have three of the same kind at the store. Since then I’ve rethought things slightly and would rather put in oak leaf hydrangeas where at least one of the rhododendrons was destined to go. In addition to the ferns we purchased I went into the woods and transplanted several of the native ferns into the shade garden.

My daughter loves walking on the stone border and posing for pictures as you can see!

Once everything was in place I began planting. Several varieties of hosta were planted including ‘Wide Brim’ and ‘Patriot’. The stump in the background is a placed log and not a real stump but it does appear to have been there for a while.

You might be asking “why didn’t you clear the grass and weeds that were there?” One answer would be “because I didn’t need to” but the other, more honest, answer would be “because I’m lazy!” Both of those answers are true since we used one of my favorite planting techniques: newspaper! By layering the newspaper between the plants we put an effective weed prevention barrier that was easy to work around. To me newspaper is better to use in gardens than landscape fabric. It breaks down over time and you can plant things where it used to be. Also the roots don’t get tangled up in the newspaper like they do in landscape fabric. I do like the fabric for under mulched walkways and areas where NO plants will ever be!

I moved several more logs to use for planters and to add a bit of woodland charm to the garden. The stump toward the middle of the following picture was once a cedar tree that is now a stand for a Boston fern. I thought that placing a log on its side would help to evoke more of the woodland mood.

From this angle you can see the three large boulders I mentioned earlier. the two on the left are easily 300-400 pounds and about 3 feet in length. Perfect stones to have a seat and drink some cool lemonade or anything else for that matter.

Toward the front I added a small ring of stones that connects to the garden but distinguishes a transplanted redbud (Cercis canadensis). Redbuds are all over Tennessee and fit in well as an understory tree to help add to the shady conditions. Their spring color is spectacular and their heart shaped leaves look great through all growing seasons.

Here is the redbud tree itself. It’s a small one with a good root system.

I picked a tree that had a “Y” branching pattern. My thought was that it would grow nice and bushy over time.

The next couple pictures were of the woodland shade garden in April. Work was mostly finished except for mulching, which was just recently completed.

Here is a heuchera next to a stump.

A few of the ferns.

Here is one final look at the woodland shade garden in April.

Now the garden is almost complete. The mulch is covering up the newspaper and the plants are growing in their new home. Toward the back you can see two small flags where other plants may be planted in the future.

Remember the Rustic bench I mentioned? Here it is right next to the shade garden. One side of the garden has the convenience of the large stones that double as seating and the other side has this bench. No matter where you go you can have a seat to enjoy the sounds and sights of nature.

It’s amazing how much adding mulch dresses up an area. Any volunteer weeds that pop up can easily be pulled.

Here is a look at the garden from the front. The log caladium planter is standing in the center where one of the little flags was. A few pieces of driftwood were added to enhance the rustic look. There is a tiki torch in the center that needs moved, but that can be done once we know where all the seats will be.

Hopefully this garden will enhance the enjoyment of the wedding for the guests. Even if it doesn’t, I had fun putting it together!


Dave has written GrowingTheHomeGarden.com since 2007. He gardens on an acre and a half where he raises his 4 children. He enjoys growing vegetables, herbs, and propagating plants. Dave has a side business growing and selling heirloom vegetables and herb plants through Blue Shed Gardens and works as a real estate agent in Spring Hill, TN.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. That looks great Dave! With all those woods, I fear the deer and bunny may find the hosta! Please tell me they dont have deer and bunny near that beautiful garden…

    Great Job and really a nice place to sit and sip lemonade!

  2. It looks fantastic Dave! And your rustic bench is a nice finishing touch.

  3. Great job Dave. It looks perfectly gorgeous. Of course if critters are a problem you could always place soap near by to help keep them at bay. Or go to local barber shop & get hair from cuts—that helps too.
    Congrats for a job well done. I love it.

  4. That was a great evolution of a shady woodland garden! It is amazing how mulch finishes a bed off so nicely!

  5. Looks nice. I especially love the stone border.

  6. Dave, it looks beautiful! Very nice transformation. I like your use of weathered stones and logs. They help make the garden look like it’s been there a long time.

  7. Everything looks fantastic. I am sure the wedding guests will not only enjoy the wedding itself, but the beautiful scenery that you’ve put together!

  8. I think you did a really great job. It is just lovely.

  9. You did a great job. I love the woodland look to the garden, it blends in so well with the surroundings.

    Always Growing

  10. Thanks everyone for your comments! I’m actually more worried about wild turkeys than deer, but hopefully everything will be fine. The plants have been there since the end of April without anything bothering them so maybe it will remain unnoticed by the deer and rabbits.

  11. I think you did a great job and you’ve given me some ideas for plants for a shady area that I want to work on this fall.

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