A tidy kind of woods.. Suggestions, please

kiki_thinkingMarch 13, 2013

We have a long, gentle downhill slope from our home that has many large oak and hickory trees. Only sparse grass grows there and some dry mosses. Our neighbor to the right keeps his yard raked clean and all brush cut out under his large trees, and while it looks tidy, it doesn't have much aesthetic appeal.

Our neighbor to the left is disabled and he has let his portion go wild. A few fallen trees, dense cover of leaves on the ground, some ferns. Although it is altogether neglected, I prefer the look of his woodsy yard to my tidy neighbor's.

We would like to let our yard go "woodsy" but don't want it to look neglected or unkempt. We lost 7 very large trees during last summer's derecho (storm) and I plan to replant some trees this fall.

So I was wondering what are some of the principles that make the design of a woods view look intentional? What should we keep in mind as we return the backyard to a less sparse state? Are there particular references that would be good to read? Like, if someone were to start planning an arboretum, what principles would they have in mind? I'd like the feel of an arboretum, i like to wander and look at my plantings up close as well as from a distance. We could even put on a small circuitous path around the property. I planted 25 white dogwoods last fall, thinking I needed to get an understory developing. One of my gardening friends indicated that I needed some evergreens to balance all the leggy things. We also have voracious deer here, so they are a consideration.

I want my property to look more natural, a tidy kind of wild woodlands but prefer that it not look like I have just quit taking care of my yard.
I would very much appreciate any suggestions you might have,
thank you!

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Have you read Rick Darke's THE AMERICAN WOODLAND GARDEN: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest? That might address some of your questions....

Here is a link that might be useful: THE AMERICAN WOODLAND GARDEN

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 2:27PM
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Thank you! I just ordered it, It looks very helpful!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 8:48PM
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"... I was wondering what are some of the principles that make the design of a woods view look intentional? What should we keep in mind as we return the backyard to a less sparse state?" ... "I want my property to look more natural, a tidy kind of wild woodlands but prefer that it not look like I have just quit taking care of my yard."

I'm submitting two woodland photos that were taken at the same location, each looking toward different views. I'm offering them as a theoretical discussion, not as a specific solution for your yard. To my thinking, one of the views looks much more attractive than the other. I wonder if you'll agree. Though there are some minor differences in the upper half of the pictures (the horizontal zone with tree trunks and foliage) for the most part their structure is relatively the same.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2013 at 1:06PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

I've gradually been carving garden sections out of a dense jungle. Sometimes I begin with a path, and in a few cases I have cleared an area to open it up for views. I like the contrast of paths through dense areas that lead to more open areas, sort of positive and negative spaces, and the tension it creates.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 10:58AM
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Yardvark, I'm really glad you posted, because I really like learning from the kind of discussion you initiated!
Me, I like the one on the right. There may be reasons I like it that I don't recognize but I know I like the variety of textures and the more contrasty light/dark.
The one on the left is pretty, but when I look at it I think " ferns, I love ferns, maybe I can have ferns like that in my woods" but the trees and brush fade from notice.

What other differences are significant? Are there reasons I ought to prefer the one on the left? : )

This post was edited by kiki_thinking on Fri, Mar 15, 13 at 16:55

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 4:47PM
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I'm going to chalk my illustration up as a failure, partially due to the fact that GardenWeb shrinks the photos too much. My appraisal of the two views comes from real life and when I reviewed the small photos here again, after hearing your opinion of them, kiki, I am forced to admit that the photo on the right does not look as bad as is my impression of it is In real life, the dead brown bits of litter on the ground, bare dirt and straggles of vines and brush are not as evident in the photo. While the ferns, being 3' high do not invite one to walk in, they invite one to peer into the forest and have you wishing you could explore more. They look cool, soft and inviting. The ferns would need to be a lot shorter to invite one to walk into them. I think they present a more pleasing and inviting look because they provide visual unity and continuity ... a way to add organization to an otherwise disheveled scene. The good news is that if you like the photo on the right, there's nothing special to do other than beat down paths where you want them. The scene is just what grew, how it wanted.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 11:41PM
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See, I was afraid of giving a wrong answer. I do love the ferns. From the photo posted, I can't see straggly vines, or leaf litter, just what looks like variation in plants. So between the two, I chose the one on the right.

So one key to making the wooded area look less haphazard is to plant swaths of the same plant?

Ok, here are some examples of the types of questions I'm asking myself:
I would like to replace some of the trees we lost. Would it be more attractive to plant a swath of the same tree? Or maybe better to choose several different varieties? I planted white dogwoods, if I wanted to add trees like service berries and redbuds, should I plant small stands of them, or scatter them singly throughout?
It's not so much that I want someone to design the landscape for me, but I would like to know what the principles that factor in are. So I can think about it better.

But I appreciate the attempt to set up the photos for consideration.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 11:51AM
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Catkim, just saw your comment, thanks for the suggestion.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 11:58AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Yard - when I saw those two pictures, my reaction was that it's not an either/or choice as to which is best. The right-hand picture was not large or clear enough to tell what it was really showing but, to me, what it appeared to show was a path that was either or both of weedy/begining to be overgrown. All that it seemed to need was some cleaning up to make it easier to navigate and provide a clear path that would draw you forward. The left picture is the sort of thing I'd expect to see off the side of the path in the picture to the right. You said they were taken in the same location so that didn't seem surprising. I think a nice woodland garden needs both the paths and the filled understory areas.

This picture is from a nearby woodlot. There isn't a path running through this particular area but it's a scene we always look forward to seeing in early-mid May!

tiki - how big an area are you talking about? What large trees still remain? How much understory is there - i.e. shrubs and perennials/groundcover? You need to think about those layers as well as the trees. Is there a good arboretum near you that you can visit to help you define what you want? The Rick Darke book should help too.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 1:09PM
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"if I wanted to add trees like service berries and redbuds, should I plant small stands of them, or scatter them singly throughout? " Generally, plant groups of plants, not roaming individuals. Groups of plants work together to make a statement. Individuals vie for attention separately and work against each other, too many of them creating havoc. In most cases, good landscapes are comprised of various groups of like plants working together. Individuals are generally specimens that deserve special recognition. (And with too many VIPs in the same room vying for attention, one doesn't know who to see first!)

Woody, that's a nice scene and a perfect example of what I was trying to claim improved the woodland picture ... uniformity and continuity of the ground plane. For all practical purposes, the picture is comprised of only two elements: trees and groundcover. So there is proof positive that the combination of only two plant species can produce pleasing and outstanding results. I'm sure more could be added, but, without skill and care, more could become LESS! Kiki, look for examples in real life that you deem to be successful. Copy them. Adapt them. Learn their "secrets" for your spaces.

Since my "bad" picture didn't look as bad as it should have, I was trying to think of other analogies that might work, and thought that the living room with wall-to-wall carpet was pretty good. If one imagines a nice living room and then compares it to the same room, but now with a litter of scattered socks, newspapers and children's toys, I think they could easily see how it is not as VISUALLY attractive. ADDING more things that are not organized in such a manner to increase visual pleasure, is a negative.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 9:36PM
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The area I see from the back of my home is not that large. About 150 feet wide and 200 feet deep. It slopes away from my house and decks sharply for 15 feet, then slopes gradually away downhill another 300 feet down a steeper slope, out of our immediate view. I have 10-12 white oak trees, 3 chestnut oaks, 2 or 3 ash trees, a water maple, and a few other trees I can't identify.
No brush or understory, just struggling grass, dry moss and two little trenches where the runoff from my gutters cuts thru my yard. We lost 7 very large trees last summer during the derecho storm. The largest one fell on my house, I believe it was 40" in diameter, big tree! i was sorry to lose it. The smallest tree I have is probably 10" in diameter.

I like ferns, trilliums, hemlocks, ground pine (lycopodium obscurum), rhododendrons (but the deer eat them), serviceberries, white dogwood, redbud, maples with a leggy shape, teaberry, may apples, wild honeysuckle, chestnut trees, jack in the pulpit, woodland flowers like wild columbines. We are probably too too dry up here on the ridge for many of those.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 11:13PM
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The book came today! Lots to read, and the book is beautiful! Thanks for the suggestion!

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 8:15AM
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freezengirl(3aMN and 5AK)

I was so excited to come across this post! I have been studying the back of my property, contemplating how to make it come to life as a woodland garden. Because I could not figure out how to work with it (and thought it beautiful in it's own right) I left it alone while working on the rest of the property and building a home here. Last year while I was away in the hospital my family got together and "cleaned" up the area. They knew I loved the view which I see from my bed and have heard me talking about someday plans for it. Though well intentioned, they cleaned out way to much. The understory is completely gone. I have ordered the book you recommended (thank you!) and will hopefully come up with some ideas for understory plantings.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 11:41AM
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kiki_thinking- do you have deer?
Because if you do that will influence everything you do!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 1:15PM
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