Using Trees and Shrubs in the Garden

using trees in the garden

Brilliant autumn leaves add color to late summer gardens.

Trees give the garden structure and form the backbone of the landscape, yet we often overlook them.  One of the challenges in my role visiting breeders around the world and with the introduction of new plants for the garden is that I often get caught up in the micro elements / individual plants that we are looking at and forget or don’t really appreciate the plants that  are essential to form the structure of the garden.

Foundations of Garden Design, Part 1

In my “Garden Design 101” posts, I discussed some of the rules about repetition, mass planting, location, maintenance and other considerations.  However as I was looking out on our gardens in Silvan, Australia today, I was reminded that I had omitted a key part of the planning process which is deciding on what is going to act as the backbone of the garden.

The reminder of this is an incredible tree that stands alone in the middle of a vast expanse, yet still serves as a centre piece in one part of our trial gardens.

Using trees in the garden

This magnificent tree acts as a centre piece in one section of our trial and display gardens.

However, not all of us have 20 acres where we can add specimen trees as dramatically as this one. So, this is where the choice of tree or large shrub plays a key part in the planning and planting process. First and foremost, it’s important to consider how the tree looks at different times during the year.

Using trees in the garden

These crabapple trees are incredibly bright in the early spring.

using shrubs in the garden

And are equally lovely but in a totally different way, during the winter months.

The planning part for this structural element of garden design takes a lot more visualisation than does the planting of perennials or annuals.  With those, you can easily have an idea of what they’re going to look like in a few years.  However, when determining where to put a tree or large shrub, you need to envisage what it is going to look like in 10+ years time.  You also need to consider what effect you want to achieve (unless, of course, money is no object and you can buy established trees).

Other considerations to think about when visualising and planning what trees and shrubs to use are:

  • How much maintenance am I prepared to invest in maintaining a hedge or raking leaves from deciduous a selection?
  • How close  to the house do I plant a tree or shrub?
  • Am I prepared to clean the gutters regularly as a reward for the shade it provides?
  • Is the root system going to have enough room or will it disrupt pavements and driveways?


Pin Oak tree

This pin oak offers plenty of shade making the clean-up work each autumn worth the effort!

Confession  . . . I never paid any heed to these considerations when I purchased my current abode which has 120 year old hedges around the property that require constant trimming, a large Pin oak tree over the house which means the gutters require constant cleaning, a multitude of deciduous trees throughout the garden which means plenty of raking, and an entrance with large Lily Pillies along each side of the driveway that disrupt the driveway paving. However I wouldn’t change a thing and see the maintenance as a labour of love.


Now that we’ve talked about the challenges, we’ll also need to think about added benefits that trees and large shrubs can provide.  Stay tuned for part 2 of this post, coming soon!



using tress in the garden

Ohh – the fun side of leaves!


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