Aerial view of newly landscaped hillside woodland garden in winter

Accessible hillside woodland garden

Close-up of paper brown Witchhazel petals

Witchhazel 'Diane' is a gorgeous, relatively small cultivar (Hamamelis x intermedia). It flowers in late winter with a medicinal scent and it’s used as a herbal remedy

The clients wanted to transform the 2 acre site on a fairly steep hillside into a wildlife forest garden. Clearance of Bramble and Bracken had already started, I sketched up the paths and possible tree locations in the garden in situ, using cotton twine and green bamboo from the clients’ existing garden.

Pen sketch of paths in garden on printed out map

Sketch indicating main footpaths

I then called in Matt Broome from bike track and footpath specialists West Wales Trials. He used a mini-digger to bench cut the footpaths.

Cotton twine leading up woodland track

Cotton twine & bamboo are the ultimate ecologically minded marking out tools

Newly revealed stones leading up woodland track

Freshly cut footpath from main entrance

Matt and Marley were attuned to what was needed, and the freshly landscaped paths and steps have withstood a very wet winter. The aftermath of the bench cutting was very dramatic, as the topsoil was distributed over the existing ground cover. However, the spring growth will soon grow this layer of soil.

The plants are a range of natives—Dogwood, Privet and Alder Buckthorn for hedging, Silver Birch as the main stand of trees—and edible/medicinal ornamentals, including English Walnut, Aronia ‘Nero’, Apple Serviceberry, Scarlet Hawthorn and Witchhazel. The existing trees include Hazel, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Beech and Horse Chestnut.

Young walnut and leaf

Walnuts are beautiful and fragrant trees

My motto is to use native plants where possible, so that there’s a bulk of foodstuff for invertebrates. This is why native hedging is so useful. On the bottom I used Bloodtwig Dogwood, host to at least 10 species, and providing flowers and berries for wildlife as well.

Newly planted hedge

Bloodtwig Dogwood windbreak hedge, marked with bamboo, with White Mustard temporary ground cover

What is also important, particularly on a sloping site exposed to prevailing winds, is create temporary windbreaks for the newly planted tres. I use dead hedges a great deal, as they protect the young plants in the early stages, plus they are great habitat, and also a place for all your brash.

Dead hedge in front of newly planted shrub

A dead hedge protecting a newly planted Witchhazel 'Diane'

I use a spiral of chicken wire held in place with bamboo as a guard against rabbits. They expand with the tree, they’re re-usable and they don’t leave fragments of plastic in the soil.

Chicken wire tree guard around a young tree

Chicken wire tree guard around a Devon Sorb Apple

For longevity, and also to cut down on plastic pollution, I used spiral aluminium metal embossed plant labels. I bought a Dymo Rhino labeller specifically for the job but you can also use a manual alphabet punch set and old drink cans to the same end.

Two spiralled metal plant labels

These plant labels will grow with the tree

Newly landscaped paths and steps on hillside

Steps put into steeper sections