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Creating Your Secret Garden

Beautiful woodland garden path in springtime. Also available in
A 2007 study by researchers at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Medicine found that shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ may be employed to reduce stress, while forest environments can be enjoyed as therapeutic landscapes.

Woodland Garden

The practice of spending time in a woodland area connecting all five senses with nature has many health benefits and is gaining traction in North America. The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing.’

An existing natural forest on your property, or one you have developed, can be personalized with a few additions, such as:

  • a winding pathway to make the smallest woodland garden seem larger; and/or
  • focal points, such as unique plants, artwork, benches, and statuary for interest and an element of surprise.

It’s always best to use native plants and varieties suited to your growing zone and soil type. Soil under a tree canopy may become dry due to lack of rainwater or competition for water with neighbour tree roots. Thinning those neighbour trees may be required to save a favoured tree.

You can also improve woodland soil structure by amending with compost to aid in water retention and to lighten up wet clay soil when you grow plants that prefer those conditions. Plants in bog conditions do not mind having their feet wet most of the time.

Woodland gardens usually have varying degrees of direct sunlight throughout the day and you should be mindful of the general sun/shade guide to make your plant choices:

  • six-plus hours of direct sunlight = full sun;
  • four to six hours of direct sunlight = part shade; and
  • less than four hours of direct sunlight = full shade.

Choose shade-tolerant plants accordingly and remember that an area receiving less than two hours of direct sunlight may not be suitable for planting. To let in more sunlight, open up the tree canopy above by thinning out the branches of taller trees.

You can encourage wildlife by providing wood and rock piles and low-growing shrubs for refuge and berry shrubs for food. A water feature of any scale will encourage frogs and toads in particular. Bat and bird houses, bird feeders, bird baths, and flowering plants for pollinators will all connect your secret woodland garden intimately with Mother Nature.

Decorative pond at night
Your night garden will come to life with its own special magic after sunset. Design your lighting placement for safety, to highlight focal points, and to create atmosphere.

Night Garden

After a busy day at work or running errands, the evening hours may be the only time to enjoy your secret garden. A well-planned night garden can be an especially delightful environment for relaxing and entertaining guests. Creative lighting is the secret ingredient for atmosphere and it’s worth taking time to research this area when planning your project.

Make sure pathways and stairs are well-lit in your design plan and your extension cords or cables are buried or placed off walking areas.

Consider some or all of these elements:

  • plants with white or pastel-coloured flowers may appear subtle in the daytime, but present a silvery appearance and glow in dim light;
  • place scented blooms close to seating level and plants with stronger scents farther away;
  • include lightly coloured, scented flowers for nighttime pollinators like bees, butterflies, and pollinating moths; and/or
  • sitting areas, such as a fire pit, a candlelit dining table, or a family-size outdoor theatre can make your night garden a very popular place.
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