Introduction: Woodland Garden

About: Married to Domestic_Engineer (but I call her Meghan).
Do you have lots of shady edge-of-woods spots?  In New England we have lots of this, frequently a breeding ground for poison ivy and deer ticks.  But these negletect spaces can be made into great woodland gardens.  Often the most ovverun spot will  often  have a thick layer of dark topsoil from years of fallen leaves and yard waste.

Here I will describe how we turned a thorny mess into a nursary for shade plants.

The basic steps are:
  1. Clear an area
  2. Identify the plants you want
  3. Identify the plants you do not want (weeds)
  4. Plant
  5. Wait
  6. Divide
Here is a good webpage for identifying plants in New England - GoBotany

Note:  The photos were all taken in the early morning.  It is normally a shady area.  

Note: There are (probably) rules about transplanting native plants.  All of this is on my own property, so it is okay.

Warning:  Some of these plants are regulated as invasive or noxious weeds.

Step 1: Find a Good Spot

 A good spot for a woodland garden is the edge of the woods that gets sun either early in the morning, or late in the afternoon.  It may take several years to establish so the garden should not be on a main path.  However, the garden will need regular upkeep, so it should be easy to access.

Ours is built near a swing set, a few feet into the woods.  It is the former site of a large compost pile.

Step 2: Identify Plants to Grow

My goal is to use the garden as a nursery for shade plants.  I also wanted to cultivate some native species.  And I didn't want to have to by any more hostas.

The main plants I am growing are:
Bleeding Heart
Bishops weed
And Jack-in-the-pulppits

In the next few steps I will describe how to raise each of these.

Step 3: Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema Triphyllum)

The Jack-in-the-pulpit is a native plant that is rarely available commercially.  I was lucky to find a small plot of them growing on my property.  I have had success dividing and transplanting them.

They are weird and very delicate plants.  If you find some growing, mark the spot and come back in the late full or winter.  The plants retreat into small corns (sort of like a hard mushroom).  If you carefully dig these up (they are usually just below the soil line) you can either save them to plant in the spring, or imediatly transplant to a nursery area.

The young plants have just 3 leaves and look a bit like poison ivy.  As the plants get larger they have the small leaves and a second stalk with the distinctive jack-in-the-pulpet flower.  When they are mature plants they emerge from the ground as large purple spikes wich unferuall into pretty big plants.

Here is more information from

Step 4: Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra)

Bleeding hearts are nice because they have lots of flowers (for a shade plant) and the leaves are neat.  This is also a very delicatge plant, it cannot be transplanted when in bloom, the plant sort of falls apart when removed from the soil.  Instead, mark the location and wait until late fall to move or divide.

Bleeding hearts have lots of seed pods.  I have tried collecting the seeds and then planting them elsewhere, this has had poor results.  It is easier to keep the area under the pods weed free with some exposed soil.  The following spring there will be lots of little plants

I don't know the exact species, but this one is usually available in garden centers.  It is not a native plant.

See dicentra

Step 5: Transplanting a Tiny Bleeding Heart

Sometimes you can transplant bleeding hearts while they are just little sprots.  Moving the baby plants out from under the parrent, gives it a chance to grow. 

They should be planted in rich, loose soil.  All but the stem should be covered in loose leaves and pine needles.  Otherwise it will wash away, or dry out.

Step 6: Hostas

Hostas are easy.  Last year we divided the large hosta that was growing here and transplanted the pieces to other spots in the yard.  You can either dig up the whole plant and separate, or pick off the shoots from around the edges.  They sort of don't have roots.  If you stick the white part of the leaf into the ground, it will probably grow.

They are rather popular -- here is a link to the American Hosta Society

Also, not a native New England plant.

Step 7: Bishops Weed (Aegopodium Podagraria)

Bishods weed is a ground cover, it spreads by runners and can choke other plants.  The leaves are nice so it is used as a ground cover.  It is also called goutweed.

This is considered an invasive species -- it is prohibited in Massachusetts - However we have spots where nothing, including this, will grow.

Here are lists of invasive and noxius weeds from the USDA

Step 8: Weeds

The hardest part is keeping the area weed free.

This is ground ivy, it is a nice plant, but it will crowd out all other plant life.  In the spring it can grow, seed, and regrow before other plants are up.

Step 9: Ground Ivy

Ground Ivy is a big relativly large weed and can have deep roots.  It spreads by seeds.  So you can contain it by removing the seed pods before they mature.

Step 10: Mustard Garlic (Alliaria Petiolata)

Mustard Garlic is another aggressive woodland weed.  It will grow even in the deep shade.  It has deep roots.  The broud leaves block out the sun.  It has white flowers, which are not too great.  It produces lots of seed pods.

Step 11: Aloe-ish Plant

This is a pretty nice plant too, but it grows very fast and will crowed out everything else.

It has tiny shallow roots, so it is easy too pull up.

It is like an allo plant, we used to but the goo on bug bites.  

They have orange flowers and when mature, the seed pods explode.

Step 12: Molly Says Hi

Gardening Challenge

Participated in the
Gardening Challenge