Woodland Planning for Dummies

skagit_goat_man_(WA)June 14, 2007

I'm a veggie gardener and I plant in rows, everything neat and orderly. So I'm really having problems getting started on the designs for our 3/4 woodland "garden". Right now it's bare soil that's graded flat with house construction. Summer weather starts about July 5 and then there's little rain until October. So that's the soonest I'll be planting. Are there books you would suggest for getting someone like me started on getting the concepts on this type of planting. The only given is that there will be no tall fir or alder due to our winds. And of course by the time the fir got tall I'll be under them. We need some privacy plantings on two sides and after that we're open. I just want it all to fit together and not be separate like rows of beans and cabbage. Any suggestion of what to start reading or looking at? We're in a maritime climate, zone 8/9, summer highs around 70 and 30" rain/year with dry summers. Thanks, Tom

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that's 3/4 acre. Tom

    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 6:59PM
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ladyslppr(z6 PA)

I think your imagination and some thoughtful looking at the gardens of others are the best design tool you can have. If you need screening, does it have to be a hedge, or would plants arranged in less formal groups work? With no large trees are you really going to have a woodland, or more of a woodland edge with shrubs and wildflowers that thrive with some sunlight? You will want year-round interest, so don't plant too many spring flowers, too many evergreens, etc. Do you want a pond, rocks, logs or stumps, etc.? I recommend a sketch of the garden as a way of organizing and remembering your ideas. Leave plenty of space for each plant; much garden maintenance is the result of too many plants too close together (and most of the rest is caused by weeds). Start by planting the larger elements of your garden - trees, clumps of shrubs, etc. - and plan to fill in around them over the years. Incorporate vistas from the house or other places you will spend time. Don't forget the basic but generally overlooked rule of planting larger things toward the back, smaller things in front. Back and front may be defined based on a path, view from the house, or in other ways. Finally, make sure you have lots of plants that attract wildlife such as birds and butterflies.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2007 at 2:25PM
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There will be a few large trees as heartnut and empress tree. They hold up well in our winds. And there will be a few large screening trees to block the view of a neighbors house to our north. Thinking about Leland Cypress there because it's 150-200 feet downwind from our house. Your term "woodland edge" may be more of what I'm trying to plan. I'd like to have a few private siting areas but for the most part I'd like it to naturalize. If mobility for us becomes a problem in years to come I'd just like to let it go on its own. I've been looking at wholesale nursery catalogs and the choices for plantings is overwhelming. May narrow the list down by concentrating on plants native to here. Today I'll start getting measurements and start sketching. Thanks, Tom

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 7:50AM
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I would also go with plants native to your area. "Noah's Garden" and "Planting Noah's Garden" by Sara Stein are good books. A local native plant society would probably have some good plant lists for you. Musser Forests is a good provider of trees and such. Shipping into and out of the west is becoming an issue with trees so check your catalogs to make sure what you are able to get. Big things, and things that will get big, should be sited furthest from your house and driveway. You should plan with you and your plants' requirements in mind but don't get overly stressed about the looks per se. It is hard to make living plants look bad in my humble opinion.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2007 at 11:02AM
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You are so lucky, what a project! It does sound a bit daunting though.
One of the country's best garden designers is in your area, and she's written tons of books. Ann Lovejoy, gives classes in Seattle too. The librarys and bookstores should have a lot of her stuff. Her books are like talking over your ideas with a good friend, who's reeally knowledgable.
Fredrick Law Olmstead, designed Central Park in NYC and the huge park in SF, and began Landscape Architecture. It might be fun to read about him, as you follow in his footsteps, with your big design challenge and a blank slate. Your library can get this, through inter-library loan. 'A Clearing in The Distance'

Your local Cooperative Extension Service, can be a very helpful resource, and has ties to the State Agricultural Univ. The master gardener program, is set up so that knowledgeable, helpful, volunteers, can help you find answers. If you have the time to voluteer, their voluteer training program might be useful.

It sounds like you are already well on your way, thinking about what effects you want, where. One idea that can be helpful, is taking a couple of very light seats around the yard to sit, and see what each area needs, where you want your patio, veggie patches, screenings, etc.

Now would be the time, to rent a baby bobcat, if you wanted to add some contours to the yard. :) look out for buried utility lines though... On the edge, where you want some high screening, there could be a path behind a low berm where you put the tall stuff. A winding path near the borders, will be nice for walks, when you're gray haired, and give you access to the back of the veggies... Out front too, perennials and an ornamental small tree on a berm, create a more sheltered feeling when you're on the front porch. Think gentle, plausible, shapes, not bunkers, and plan the low places, and drainage too. Plants that needed more and less water would have it.

In CT, almost all the yards, have several feet in the back with ignored woods. This is good, and makes a cumulative woodland on every block. They say the state looks greener from the air.

There used to be quite a lot written on planting windscreens, on the upwind edge, of a yard, to prevent another dust bowl. Shorter, then taller plants, would lift winds up. In googling 'trees windscreen', spruce and mahonia, and cedar and pine, are mentioned now. Thuja, is better downwind, or where you won't brush against it, as its oil causes rashes, athsma etc.

Is there time for something like a cover crop, or city compost, to condition and hold the soil?

Ann Lovejoy-
Organic Garden Design-


Handbook of Northwest Gardening -


Have Fun ! florey

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardening From Scratch , Ann Lovejoy.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2007 at 4:34PM
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Ditch the empress tree. Paulownia causes too many problems and has become quite a weed in many areas.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2007 at 9:10PM
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Well I'll start ordering some of these books from the library today. I've been concentrating on the house construction so much that I didn't pay much attention to the gardens and other landscaping. Because of the ongoing construction I'm limited in what I can do for planting right now. I found a native plant society chapter about an hour from here and have bookmarked Mussers. Thanks for your suggestions.

Maifleur, what are the problems you see with the empress tree. Does it reseed like mimosas?


    Bookmark   June 27, 2007 at 8:41AM
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Do a search under the name Paulownia. Then think Bird of Paradise tree. Seeds and more seeds.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2007 at 9:23PM
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Hi Tom, Here's 3 more book ideas, although, for the other ones you'll have to scroll down in the link, to the 4% and 5% ones, of the section that has which books other people bought.
This may be the book that talks about the 4 height layers: mosses to ankle biters, garden plants to 3'-4', shrubs to ~12' , and trees. It's a usefull design concept.
You west coasters can play with tucking in some mosses, which can add a magical woodsyness.

The other recent thread about getting rid of catalpas, was probably, about paulownias. NY & CT have been fierce about getting rid of them, aren't they lovely though? Seeds, oh yeah! A real pest.
Saw some tibouchina, a fairly tropical shrub with pretty blue flowers in the Mendocino/ Fort__? area. They probably can't take frost. Would a chaste tree work? Blue flowers.
There are some native pioneer trees that'll grow quickly, what about some grapes or fruit trees?

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardening with woodland plants -Junker

    Bookmark   July 1, 2007 at 5:02AM
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Florey, I got 5 of Lovejoy's books and they really address what I'm trying to create. Have a couple of books on native Pacific Northwest Shrubs ordered thru the library too. So when we're at the new home we wander the land and start to plan on what we may do in the various areas. Have only changed our minds 100x so far. I think we'll just address a few areas where we want to plant some visual barriers on two of the property lines and planting on the septic drain field for this autumn's plantings. Then we can look it over all winter while we live there and decide what to do in the spring.The County has a listing of plants/bulbs/grasses they recommend for the septic plantings.

Maifluer, I think I'll go with heartnuts instead of the Empress tree. Thanks for the advice. The purpose of the large disiduous is for structure in one corner of the land.

Again as the vegetable gardener I've been thinking of how to get this all done by the end of next year. Now I'm starting to apprecite the fact that this will be an ongoing process that may be as enjoyable as veggie gardening. Tom

    Bookmark   July 4, 2007 at 9:46AM
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Get your hands on 'Gaias Garden' by Toby Hemenway it changed everything for me [a light in the dark].

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 5:13PM
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Hey Tom, We'll be looking forward to some pictures this year.

That Gaia's book had useful new ideas, recommended. florey

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 1:28AM
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Can't believe that it was June when I originally posted and we were living in a garage apartment and barn. Now we're in our new home and are getting started on this project. It's interesting how our thoughts on this woodland planting have evolved since then. We've decided to put some deciduous trees, 15' - 25' mature height, in the plantings. We decided against the privacy hedge on one side and will plant rhodys, azaleas, camellias, and frens along the front. The side with the privacy planting has leyland cypress and California myrtle. We're going through Lawyer's Nursery site and picking out most of the smaller native shrubs. Have to get them ordered quickly so as to get them planted while there is still rain. Otherwise will have to wait a year. So all you comments helped. Thanks, Tom

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 9:58AM
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I'm glad to hear you are making progress.

Have you thought about Ginkgo Biloba? They are beautiful and look awesome as accent trees. They are slow growing generally (I have seen 10 feet after 8 years) and have an interesting vase shape that becomes spreading with age. If you want to avoid the stinky seeds (you do) then there are plenty of male cultivars available. Do a quick forum search about them. Some Ginkgo in china are over 1000 years old. Imagine your garden then!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 4:45PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

You might want to "look" at pictures of shade/woodland gardens for inspirations. Check out some of Ken Druse books from the Library. The Natural Shade Garden and the Natural Garden are books with great inspirational pictures.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 10:33AM
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Hi there, neighbor to the north. Vashon Island here.

Going with the natives? Small trees: Vine maple, Indian plum also called sand plum, a small tree about the size of vine maple - white flowers just starting to bloom right now and very pretty. And you must plant the native dogwood with the greenish white flowers - tall slim and gray barked, grows in sun or shade, a beauty. Cornus nuttalii. There's a native currant that is large enough to almost be a small tree, with pretty pink flowers.

What about the eastern Washington elderberry with the blue berries? It is GORGEOUS and delicious. About a 30 foot tree. Likes to grow by water over there, but we're so moist here you can grow anywhere.

These are all doing very well in my forest edge garden here, and I do nothing to care for them - they're all adapted.

Shrubs: Evergreen huckleberry (beautiful), Snowberry, and my favorite: Thimbleberry - Grow a thicket of these and you'll smell the lemony scent of their leaves several feet away, they have pretty white flowers that look like strawberry blossoms in May, and they fruit in July - to my mind the most delicious berry - a winey flavor that lingers on the tongue. Not as many berries as rasp or black, but far tastier And a clump of these is really attractive with something growing in front - they have bare legs.

What about a hedge or clump of salmonberries? They look scraggy in the winter, but in summer they are light green and fresh, and they are the staple food of hummingbirds around here in March - ours always attract the hummers & then we supplement with feeders by the window to watch the birds

    Bookmark   March 20, 2008 at 2:14AM
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