Gardening Vic MacBournie Gardening Vic MacBournie

Can I plant trees close to my house?

Creating a window into your low-maintenance Woodland Garden can be as simple as planting a tree or shrub up close to your favourite window to experience nature up close. Most gardeners have been happy to view their gardens from afar. Now is the time to consider landscaping our yards to bring our gardens indoors. Consider creating garden vignettes that incorporate a beautiful bird bath, a bird house or even better an elegant bird feeder, or water feature just outside your window for full-season interest and a window into your woodland.

Planting trees in close to your home and windows helps to give you a window into your woodland.

Planting trees in close to your home and windows helps to give you a window into your woodland.

Trees planted close to windows create rooms with a view

You shouldn’t have to step outside to enjoy your Woodland and wildlife garden. By creating impressive views from inside your home, the garden and its wildlife always has a presence.

Whether it’s a full fledged Woodland that stretches out as far as the eye can see, or a smaller area in your garden, consider finding ways to welcome it into your home.

In winter, you’ll appreciate looking out at the birds flitting from branch to branch. In spring, you might be lucky enough to watch a pair of cardinals build a nest and raise their young.


There are plenty of ways to bring the outdoors in, but I find planting trees, shrubs, grasses, ground covers and flowers close to the windows in our one-storey house to be the best way to experience the woodland garden at all times.

Looking out and seeing birds in the branches just outside the window is such a pleasant experience compared to looking out over a sea of grass with gardens in the distance.

I also don’t worry about tree roots invading our basement. I am aware that this can and does occur at times – mostly in 100-plus year old homes with massive oak trees or maples planted very close to the home. By planting trees with less aggressive rooting systems, these problems can be averted.

A few good trees to plant near a home include birches, various forms of apple including crabapples, dogwoods, Japanese maples and hawthorn trees.

Trees to keep away from your home’s foundation include silver maple, poplars and white ash.

Our trees are far enough away that I am not concerned that they will ever get large enough to do any damage to the foundation of the home. Besides, I won’t probably be around by the time that occurs. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy feeling one with nature.


Getting up close and personal

There are many ways to get up close and personal with nature.

Some involve constructing outdoor structures … or building expensive three- and four-season rooms that reach into your garden and surround you with your woodland in a climate-controlled, mosquito-free environment.

Perfect, but often very pricey.

It’s a whole lot easier and much less expensive to simply take advantage of what’s already staring you in the face.

Existing windows and doors are an opportunity many gardeners overlook when it comes to maximizing their gardens. It’s not enough to simply look out over the garden, try to bring the woodland in close to give you an intimate window into the goings on in your garden. Birds flitting from branch to branch or a mother feeding her young just on the other side of the window provides all the entertainment you need over your morning coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Create vignettes outside your windows

Similar to indoor decorating, look to create vignettes on the outside that you can appreciate from inside.

French doors, for example, provide the perfect opportunity to create a beautiful vignette just outside the doors.

Outside our family room French door is a beautiful copper birdbath, a small concrete bench, a container full of annual flowers as well as a beautiful flowering Cornus Kousa. A small flagstone pathway gives the viewers’ eyes a view past a rose bush and into the main garden.

From the couch in the family room, I can watch a steady procession of birds at the birdbath and admire the beautiful view of the flowering dogwood. In winter the birdbath is heated to continue to provide entertainment while giving the birds vital fresh water and a bathing opportunity even in the dead of winter.

In your garden, it may be nothing more than a grouping of pots filled with colourful plants or dramatic grasses, garden art or a simple bird bath, or water feature that you can appreciate from both indoors and out.

Five ways to bring the Woodland inside:

• Spend time standing at or looking out the windows of your home in every season and dream of what you might want to view. Then make it happen

• Plant trees or clumps of trees close to your home outside windows and doors to give you intimate views of nature from inside your home.

• Plan a lovely vignette outside your favourite window.

• If you have a window overlooking a neighbour, consider planting cedars. Make sure they are either native white cedar, black cedar or a cultivar that is loose and natural feeling. Some of the cedars sold at nurseries are more ornamental and not really the best for hedging. The best cedars grow taller than a fence, provide year-round interest and attract birds both as nesting areas and food sources. Hang a small feeder nearby for even more entertainment.

• If you need new windows or doors, take advantage of the opportunity by either increasing the amount of glazing (glass) or using a French door or sliders over a standard door. Maximize your view and then create the view you dream of through landscaping.

Wise words from a professional landscaper

A landscape professional once told me that a good landscape allows people to live in it not just admire it from afar.

It’s an approach we all need to consider more carefully when we create our landscapes. Planting trees or shrubs close to windows and places where we spend the most time is a sure fire way to fully experience our gardens.

Natural tree canopies replace umbrellas

Why use a massive garden umbrella to give you shade from the afternoon sun, when a large tree canopy can do it with greater style? Plant that tree now and by the time it provides you with the canopy you desire, your existing umbrella will need replacing.

We are lucky enough to have large windows in both the front and back of our ranch-style home. In addition, to open the garden up even more, every exterior door has been converted to either have a large window or turned into a French door for maximum viewing.

To some extent, our gardens are designed around the windows.

Our large front picture windows look out onto a grassless woodland setting that includes, among other plants and trees, Japanese maples, a lovely serviceberry, fully mature Crimson and red maples as well as our neighbour’s large blue spruce trees.

But it’s our view out into the back garden that best illustrates our attempt to bring the Woodland indoors.

Creating a view: Designing a dry-river bed

After years of looking out a large dining room bay window into our back garden, it donned on me that we really needed to create an interesting view that we could appreciate year round.

The view had always begged for something special, but I could never decide how best to use the space. 

Over the years, it primarily served as our main bird- and deer-feeding stations. The birds and deer provided plenty of entertainment, but it was time for a change.

Although it was completed just three years ago, it’s fair to say this project was years in the making.

It began with a plan to create a dry-river bed that connected to an existing pathway of river rock, pea gravel and flagstone stepping stones – a landscaping project my wife and I completed many years earlier. I liked the look and feel of the existing pathway and thought it would be good to bring that same feeling out into the landscape.

Since a bubbling rock has always been a dream of mine, we incorporated a small solar powered pump with a bubbling rock at the head of the dry-river bed. The idea was coming together in my mind but it needed more to make it look natural and bring it together as a cohesive landscape.

Eventually, after combing Pinterest for dry-river ideas, the concept of a bubbling rock and dry river bed running through a forest of birch trees was born.

Soon after, three clump birches were planted in the area around where the dry river bed would eventually go. The bubbling rock and dry river bed followed.

Grasses, ground covers and native flowers have been added since then to soften the hard edge of the river bed rocks and, three years later, the entire project is beginning to settle nicely into the landscape.

The birches seem happy and the branches are growing together creating a lovely birch-grove canopy over the bubbling rock and dry river bed.

Together, the tree canopy and fresh moving water attract plenty of birds, chipmunks and red squirrels that come in for a taste of the cool water rising up from the underground and spilling over the rock into the river rock below. I have even seen toads and snakes visiting the area.

Add solar lights for night views

At night, three solar-powered spotlights on the birch clumps allow us to enjoy our birch grove at all times, whether we are sitting outside or inside at the dining room table.

In fact, the lighted birch grove is the last thing I see every night and never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Now is the perfect time to consider creating vignettes outside your windows and doors to bring your Woodland garden into your home. I guarantee it’ll bring a smile to your face every day.

I would love to hear from you on how you were able to take advantage of existing windows and doors to create a dream view.

Take a few minutes to share your thoughts down below and inspire others to bring their Woodland indoors.

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you) I try to only endorse products I have either used, have complete confidence in, or have experience with the manufacturer. Thank you for your support.

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Gardening Vic MacBournie Gardening Vic MacBournie

Mulch Mania: Building a foundation for a low-maintenance garden

Building a solid foundation starts with your garden’s soil and there’s no better way to build a high-quality soil than to use mulch. Cedar mulch forms the foundation of our low-maintenance woodland garden. It’s benefits are too numerous to list but here’s a start.

Ideal alternative to natural ground cover

Good or bad, we all remember the gardens of our childhood.

I remember dry, barren earth that literally turned to sand when you held it in your hands. It was the 1960s and the only plants that grew in the front gardens were traditional purple iris. So, needless to say, we had a lot of iris trying to survive our desert landscape.

Not that my parents didn’t try. They turned over the soil religiously revealing the darker damp soil for a few hours until the sun baked it again.

It’s hard to imagine a worse recipe for building high-quality, healthy soil. But they toiled on, sometimes adding peat moss or top soil. The ending was always the same. Dry, bleached and baked sandy soil.

The missing ingredient was mulch. I am sure it was available at that time but it certainly wasn’t piled up in bags at every building supply, grocery and nursery store.

Today, cedar mulch is so common in my area, it’s hard to believe there are any cedar trees still standing. Organic mulch is commonly made from bark or wood chippings, but it can also be made of grass clippings or pine needles, to name just a few. Non-organic mulch is another option and another blog post but includes stone such as pea gravel, aggregates and man-made substances.

Cedar mulch is a forest byproduct made from the shredded wood of cedar trees. Compared to pine mulch, the inherent nature of cedar makes it a long-lasting mulch in the garden.

The benefits of mulch far outweigh any argument for not using it. Not only is cedar mulch attractive, whether you choose natural-, black-, brown- or red-coloured, it has a pleasant smell for the first few weeks it is put down, helps unify the garden and better shows off the plant foliage. Despite its obvious benefits, it’s still not unusual to see uncovered, baked earth on my daily walks, usually accompanied by the homeowners on their hands and knees pulling weeds or, God forbid, turning the soil over so they can enjoy a few hours of dark soil before the sun comes out to bake it beige again.

Mulch is the perfect backdrop for the foliage of this Pagoda dogwood, while it protects and insulates the soil below. Over time it breaks down and adds a woodsy organic material to the soil.

Mulch is the perfect backdrop for the foliage of this Pagoda dogwood, while it protects and insulates the soil below. Over time it breaks down and adds a woodsy organic material to the soil.

In many ways, mulch actually takes the place of a living ground cover. In a woodland garden, a ground cover is a more natural and desirable alternative to organic mulch, but there are plenty of situations where a ground cover is not feasible at the time. That’s where an organic mulch truly shines.

Without going into all the benefits of heavily mulching your gardens, let’s examine just a few of the reasons mulch should be high on your list when you are building your Woodland garden.

Water retention: By shading the soil with a thick layer of mulch (ideally 3 inches or more), evaporation, both from the sun and wind, is minimized. It also helps to regulate the temperature of the soil further reducing water evaporation and giving the plants a layer of insulation that helps keep the plants’ roots cool in the summer and warm in winter. It is important to note, however, that mulch can also act as a barrier that makes getting sufficient water to your plants’ roots more difficult. It is much more water-efficient to target the plants individually either through a drip system or by hand watering them individually. Deep watering a plant by leaving the hose dripping at its roots for several hours will allow the water to dive deep into the ground rather than getting locked into the mulch layer or just licking the top inch of the soil. If your garden is properly mulched, you need to water less often but when you do water, ensure you are deep watering and targeting the plant’s roots. One of the often overlooked benefits of mulch is that it helps prevent water runoff by trapping the moisture and moving it slowly to the soil below. During a major storm, for example, water that might traditionally just run off in one direction, flooding one area and leaving another more or less dry, will be better constrained to the general area it fell on. The result, a more evenly irrigated garden that will retain the moisture much longer than barren earth – possibly days or even weeks.

Weed Inhibition: Everyone is striving for a low-maintenance garden. Mulch is the key ingredient to achieving that end. But, let’s not kid ourselves it can’t perform miracles, especially if it is spread too thinly over the soil.

We’ve all seen it. A layer of mulch so thin that you can see the soil through it. The large pieces of bark often used as mulch are the biggest culprit here. Unlike the shredded mulch, or pine needles, the bark pieces are too large to properly cover the soil and the resulting gaps make it too easy for seeds to find their way to the soil. (If you really love the look of the larger bark pieces, consider using the shredded mulch as your primary covering and top dress with the larger pieces.)

Once the weed seeds germinate, pulling them out brings more soil to the surface and before you know it, your garden is covered in weeds.

The key is to block light from reaching the soil to keep the seeds from germinating.

Some seeds will germinate right in the mulch but without proper soil they are either not long-lived or easily removed because it is near impossible for them to get properly rooted in the bark medium.

Also, if you water your individual plants rather than a general watering of the entire garden, the weeds’ roots often eventually are starved of water and die off. This is especially true following a wet spring. Weeds from the previous year will sprout in the damp mulch left by snow cover, but as the mulch dries out, the seedling roots will often die off.

A common complaint against the use of cedar mulch in the garden is that it can deplete the amount of nitrogen in the soil. While this can be true, it is not something most homeowners should be worried about. What is more worrying is the practise of piling mulch around trees and plants in a volcanic mound that is almost guaranteed to kill the plant in time.

I often see it done by unknowing city workers who like to pile mulch up the tree’s trunk as high as possible thinking they are conserving water. Do not fall into this trap. Roots of trees and plants do not benefit from mulch touching them in any way. Keep the mulch away from the plants and, instead, create a bowl of mulch around the tree trunks or plants where the sides can hold the water or at least slow its runoff from around the plant or tree. The bowl should be larger according to the size of the tree or plant and can actually extend out to the drip line of a young tree or plant.

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you) I try to only endorse products I have either used, have complete confidence in, or have experience with the manufacturer. Thank you for your support. This blog would not be possible without your continued support.

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Gardening Vic MacBournie Gardening Vic MacBournie

The first step to building our Woodland Garden

Building your dream garden may start with planting a tree or your favourite shrub. For us it began by escaping our new-home subdivision and taking the leap to an older fixer-upper that provided us with the property we needed to start our dream Woodland garden.

It started with a pool. And then another pool. Then late-night parties.

And they weren’t our dreams – neither the pools, nor the parties.

We were being forced to live the dreams of our many neighbours. We never dreamed of pools, parties, loud teenagers, concrete and glass.

So, it was time to sell.

A for-sale sign went up and before long we were in ‘our’ dream home. Well not exactly a dream home, more like a dream property. We only had one child, so my wife and I decided to go against the grain and buy a small house on a big property rather than a big house on a small property. It was the best decision we ever made for our sanity.

In the end, we compromised a little and bought a small home (at least by 1980s standards) on a decent-size lot pushing a half acre. To say the home was a fixer-upper would be a bit of an understatement.

What does this all have to do with building a woodland garden, you ask?

The Woodland garden starts in the front and carries through to the back of the home.

The Woodland garden starts in the front and carries through to the back of the home.

Focus on the garden for long-term happiness

Our dream was never really to own a huge multi-level home. We realized we wanted to create a peaceful, natural area around us where we could enjoy nature rather than jumping in the car every weekend to escape the neighbourhood noise.

The final selling factor, at least for me, was a photo album left on the table of the house on our first house tour with the real estate agent. It was left opened to a photo of a group of deer in the backyard. For many gardeners, this would be a deal breaker. For me it only made me want it more.


A fox stops by to take a drink in one of our water bowls.

A fox stops by to take a drink from one of our water bowls.

Building the woodland garden

Then the slow process of building the garden began in fits and starts. Not unlike the home, the garden, what little of it there was, needed a lot of work.

We brought in soil and mulch, planted trees and native wildflowers. Expanded the gardens and eliminated grass. Then eliminated more grass. Check out my post on the benefits of eliminating grass.

We brought in boulders, lugged hundreds of wheelbarrows of stone, pea gravel, mulch and soil into the backyard. Check out my post on the importance of using stone in the garden

My wife and I made paths, created dry-river beds in the front and the back and it continues to this day.

Finally, more than 20 years later, the combination of time and a lot of hard work is turning our patch of rural suburbia into a woodland rather than a patch of grass surrounded by other patches of grass surrounded by forest.

Now, most mornings my dog Holly and I step outside on the patio and enjoy some peaceful time together before the neighbourhood wakes up.

The birds are at home here. On any given morning, a young fox wanders through looking for breakfast and maybe a deer or two comes through and offers me a chance to photograph them before they are off for their daily adventure.

It’s taken a while to get here, and we know we will never be done. But we took that first step that needed to be taken.

Your first step might not be to sell your home, it might be to go out and plant your first tree, shrub or native wildflower.

So what are you waiting for? Take that first step. You never know where it will lead you.

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