A grove of trees can be three or more trees of various sizes, but when we also add shrubs that grow to be 10' and 20' high, such as Redbud, Dogwoods and Lilacs, then we have what would be found on the edge of a natural woodland - plants of many heights and varieties.
There are many woodland plants that love to be planted close together (3 or 4ft) so that as their canopies rapidly grow together they give shade to root systems/soil and the conditions they expect form quickly, enabling their root systems to develop and thrive as they rapidly settle into their new home.
However, when we follow traditional planting distances found in textbooks and on plant labels, they usually describe the mature canopy size. If we are creating a Museum type of garden to show off each specimen separately, then that number is appropriate, but it is for a formal garden type - it isn’t how plants naturally thrive or how we see them growing in nature and at our cottages. To give us that immediate presence we desire for our homes we must place them as closely as we would see them in an edge woodland.
When we plant more closely together then we do not need to buy expensive large specimens. Closely planted young shrubs and trees will naturally compete and so form a layered canopy as each species follows its genetic type. Redbuds, for example, will branch laterally in graceful layers while the taller trees will reach vertically and rapidly - as we see in a healthy and naturally-formed edge woodland.
Small groves of trees and shrubs give us shade to sit under, a place where children and grandchildren can be outside on sunny days under the leaves, the mystery and interest that shadow and dappled light brings to our garden (especially fascinating to young babies as they look up into the canopy), sitting places near the house to quietly read a book, all-season presence, bird nesting sites and food sources, framing of views (or blocking views we don’t want), the potential for flowers and fruit, and a landscape feature which will evolve and be a continuous source of interest over many seasons and years.
Mulch and fabric should be placed around the newly planted trees to reduce maintenance and most importantly to keep the roots cool in their early years and aid rapid root establishment. As well, planting patches of ground covers such as the native Woodruff, Corydalis or Vinca gives an evergreen presence. All of these plants - from the trees to the ground covers provide a place in our garden which will always please us, our children and our friends.