Using trees to create an interesting garden

In my last post I said that I would explain some of the ways in which landscape gardeners use trees in their garden designs.  I have realised that (surprise, surprise) I have got quite a lot to say on this topic! So, I may spread my explanation out over a few posts if that’s ok with you?

Anyway, let’s start with the idea that the reasons for selecting trees for a garden can be broadly attributable to both visual and functional design choices that a designer makes when composing their plan.  The first thing that I would like to explain then is how trees can be used to both provide division and to give depth to a garden design.

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Pleached Lime tree avenue in Oakfield park, Co. Donegal

When a garden designer first looks at a garden space they are thinking about how the space is going to be divided up in to different areas and what components they will use to achieve that division.  Trees can be used to supply horizontal division across a space either when used as individuals or when clustered together in a row.  The simplest expression of horizontal division is the hedgerow.  Trees can be used to obstruct vision or to create obstacles that need to be navigated around. In short, they can be used to help provide a more interesting space (one with garden rooms, if you like).

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Hornbeam silhouette

Another thing that trees can do is draw our eyes upward by giving vertical dimension to a design.  And this is where using trees, as oppose to other design elements such as hard strcutures, gets really interesting because they come in such a diverse range of shapes and sizes (what designers call the form of a tree).  For example, upright, fastigiate trees, such as Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata,’ a type of hornbeam, give  opportunities to create formal avenues; they can be planted as sentries framing an entranceway or they can be used as focal points in themselves when planted as individuals.  Trees with looser, rounder forms can be used to create informal effects whereas those with conical or cylindrical shapes might be used in formal design layouts.  And please note that here I am thinking about deciduous trees as much as evergreen trees.  Remember, in winter the form of a deciduous tree becomes much more obvious.

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Winter scene in Mount Usher, Co. Wicklow

Finally when designing a garden, it is really important to consider using trees in the central parts of the garden or at the very least pulling them in from the boundaries.  The best gardens bring the trees and planting in to the main space of the garden and create rooms and/or mood effects from that planting.

  • ousama

    Thanks Tim for all these info it is so interesting to discuss such issues. I am pleased i found your website and figured out all these posts.I’m really impressed.

    A question to ask about the subject in your post,what are the cases where we can use these divisions in an urban landscape? How one can mix both methods without confusing the observer and distracting the focal point?

    20th October 2012at1:05 am
  • Patrick Moore


    I am looking for some guidance in planting 2 trees (one either side) of my walled entrance with pillars and half gates to my driveway (120yds)with white thorn hedging followed by 30yds each side of white railing.
    I am leaning towards larch, would you agree or what would you recommend.
    I would value and appreciate your response.

    Pat Moore

    25th April 2016at12:38 pm
    • timausten

      Hi Pat,

      My apologies, I have only seen your correspondence now, as your query got mixed up in relentless SPAM that unfortunatlely plagues blog sites. I hope you managed to choose some trees. However, if not, Larch would not be my first choice for an entrance/driveway in terms of their visual appearance, ultimate size/bulk. I would tend towards a deciduous tree like Beech, Hornbeam or Lime but I would need to really see a photo to get a full idea on how much space you have and what kind of effect might work. You may also have a specific reason for choosing Larch to create a particular effect?

      Best Regards,

      7th January 2017at10:53 am

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