Design

HOW TO DESIGN WITH TREES

 

In the next post in our twelve-part series on designing a large garden we explain how to make the most of trees in your garden

HOW TO INCORPORATE TREES INTO YOUR GARDEN

Trees are an asset to any garden, providing height, ornamental beauty, structure, privacy as well as a sense of maturity and timelessness. They also play an important role in defining spaces and adding structural layers to the garden as well as being one of the best and most sustainable ways to make a positive impact on the environment.  In short, there is little reason not to plant a tree – or trees – in any and every garden!

There is a species and form of tree for every situation and even small gardens can accommodate a tree with careful consideration. Trees can be supplied in all manner of shapes and sizes and at all stages of their growth. Which ones are appropriate for a garden often comes down to personal taste and the desired style of the garden. We always consider exactly what we want trees to achieve in the overall masterplan. Do we want them to create a focal point, connect the garden to its surroundings, frame a view or to provide shade for example? Or perhaps we want them to provide formality and year-round form and structure? Whatever the desired aim, the most important thing is to choose the right tree for the right place.  Here we explore a number of ways trees can be used in a large garden setting.

TREES AS FOCAL POINTS

Sculpture in the garden doesn’t have to come from an artist or gallery. Adding statement trees can create beautiful focal points in their own right. A single specimen-sized tree such as a Copper Beech, can make a striking stand-alone feature, while smaller trees will often work magically, planted in groups.  At the Broadlands Estate (below) we planted a group of Malus hupehensis trees in the middle of an intersection of mown paths and surrounded them with sculptural Yew hedging to contain a place for quiet contemplation.  The showy white flowers of the trees in spring and red ornamental fruits in autumn, add wonderful seasonal drama, as well as becoming a magnet for bees.

Of course, if you already have a stately tree in your garden, it can become a focal point to the surrounding design as in this old farmhouse garden (below) where we ‘rescued’ an old Sweet Chestnut from an overgrown hedge and brambles rambling up into the canopy. Reducing the height of the hedge and lifting the canopy allowed the tree to stand out against the broad sky and created a gateway to the distant views beyond, as well as providing a lovely anchor for a garden swing.

TREES TO CREATE SYMMETRY AND FORMALITY 

Trees can be useful for providing simple formality to a garden. An elegant avenue of trees is a wonderful way to offer vertical and repeating structure to a space and can create a stunning visual impact either positioned along a driveway, to frame the approach to the house, or along a path to draw and direct the eye to a particular feature or encourage one to walk in the suggested direction.

Lime and Hornbeam are two of our favourites, their dense foliage and slender vertical form make them ideal choices for avenues or walkways, while more majestic species such as Horse Chestnut can create an imposing approach to a stately home, although sadly due to the varying pests now afflicting the latter, we are less inclined to use it these days.

In the garden to a Victorian village house (above) we introduced this wonderful avenue of Prunus x yedoensis (Cherry), which offers an even more impressive view when in blossom in the spring, underplanted with Narcissus ‘Mount Hood’. In the autumn one is greeted with a stunning perspective of orange and red.

In Hampshire (below top) we planted a stately avenue of box-pleached Lime trees designed to draw the visitor onwards along the drive.  For this beautiful Cottage Orné (below bottom) we planted a semi-mature Horse-Chestnut Avenue to focus attention on the house and frame the beautiful facade upon arrival.

FORMED TREES AND TREES TO ADD STRUCTURE

Even trees that want to grow sizeably can be kept to a smaller scale by sculpting and pruning them to wonderful effect. They can be used to make tunnels, such as the spectacular Laburnum tunnel at Bodnant Castle in Wales, umbrellas to place over a seating area for shade and trained as multi-stemmed trees to reduce their vigour and make them into interesting sculptural forms.

In the following example, we introduced umbrella-trained London Plane trees to add interest to a parking area and height to balance that of the newly built house. Ultimately, the trees will also provide shade to shield parked vehicles from hot summer sun.

In the example below we have started to train young Hornbeam trees into an arbour, framed by developing Yew hedging. The effect will be that of a leafy tunnel leading the eye towards the classical figure at the end and drawing one along the path, beneath, towards the entrances to two hidden garden rooms, thus offering further surprise and intrigue.

TREES FOR SEASONAL INTEREST 

A planting scheme should always allow for seasonal interest and there are few plants that mark the passage of the seasons as dramatically as some tree species. Whether through glorious, scented blossom in spring, fiery leaves of orange, yellow and red in autumn or leafless silhouettes in winter, trees can command attention through all four seasons.   As below, beautiful Nyssa sylvatica coming into its own at West Green House, Hampshire.

In this farmhouse garden (below), a grove of pollarded Tillia platyphyllos ‘Rubra’ (red-twigged Lime tree) are the focal point of the formal garden, enclosed with Yew hedging and a beautiful old wall. Pictured here starting to turn in autumn and again in winter, when their shaped silhouettes stand out against moody skies, they provide wonderful seasonal interest throughout the year.

TREES TO CONNECT TO THE WIDER LANDSCAPE

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden surrounded by countryside, ‘borrowing’ the landscape is an age-old trick that will make the space feel larger, and one that can easily be achieved with trees.  The key is to match trees in your garden with those that you see in the distance to subtly transition from garden to landscape.

Planting loose groups or clumps of trees will also help blur the boundaries, particularly in parkland where native species such as Oak or Beech work well; while fruit orchards surrounded by soft, natural planting can also be an effective way to merge the two. It’s even possible to buy old or specimen-sized trees that offer an established look and add instant character.  We will sometimes source old and gnarled fruit trees to establish the look of an antique orchard, which can be very appealing in the spring and summer with their bee-attracting blossom and will often be very productive from the outset.

In the following example we wanted to make an apple tree avenue by balancing one row of existing mature trees with another. To find apples of a similar age and character, we located some 30-year-old Bramley apples that were being replaced at a cider orchard in Somerset and were happy for us to re-home them!

Whatever your reason for planting a tree, there will be one suited to both your needs and your garden.  Choose carefully and growing a tree in your garden will give you decades of enjoyment.

Look out for our journal posts on large garden design covering:

Driveways and Entrances
Views & Borrowed Landscapes
Garden Structure
Designing with Water
Kitchen Gardens
Garden Buildings
Sporting Areas
Wildflower Meadows
Terraces
Decorative Elements
Herbaceous Borders