Woodland landscape garden features

Growing vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees can be called “gardening.” Landscaping incorporates gardening skills and hardscape design, like pathways and patios, to provide an esthetic, eye-pleasing balance. Landscape design may focus on a desired outcome, like a woodland landscape garden with its vertical layers of features from low groundcover up to the top of tall trees. In the image above, a tulip tree in the background partially shades the blooming dogwood; deep pink azaelea are blooming to the left of the dogwood.

Overstory Trees

Tall trees are referred to as overstory. Trees to provide a shade canopy are a key element of a woodland landscape. Deep rooting trees like hornbeam, loblolly pine or oak are good choices because they won’t interfere with the root system of foliage planted beneath them. 

An area of the landscape shaded by surrounding buildings is an option to get the shade factor if there are no trees or you cannot plant any. Adjustments can be made on how plants are added beneath existing trees with shallow roots, like using raised beds or large flower pots. Fast growing foliage that grows tall, though not as tall as the before mentioned trees, can be planted. 

Understory Trees

Trees beneath the canopy of tall trees are referred to as understory. Understory trees have a height potential of 20 to 30 feet, and are dappled shade or full shade lovers. Understory trees may include dogwood and Japanese maple. The trees can also handle full sun, preferably with afternoon shade, so they could be an overstory if desired.

Beneath Understory Trees
Rhododendron (left) and azalea

Shrubs like hydrangea, viburnum, azalea, camellia, rhododendron and mountain laurel can fill the void beneath the understory and down to about 3 feet above ground. 

Ground Level

The pathway may be dark pea gravel or mulch. Ferns and hosta can be used in mass to create a green wave. The red leaves of caladium or spotted dead nettle’s yellow-green leaves can add foliage highlights. To add color, try flowering plants like astilbe, impatiens, primrose or foxglove; or liriope, a blooming ornamental grass. Place flowers or grasses close to the pathway where their expanse will slightly cover the edge of the path. Spring blooming bulbs like crocus and daffodils can give the woodland garden early color.


A walk through a woodland garden landscape can be pleasant. Why not increase the enjoyment and create a destination within the woodland garden? Make a niche between shrubs or trees to place a bench or a small table with chairs. 

Additional Features

A fountain, pond or large boulders can complement the woodland garden theme. Use a slightly hidden gazing ball or gnome, bird house, or delicate sounding wind chimes to add your own personal touch to the landscape design.