Shrubs and Trees

Shrubs and Trees

Your garden in outline

Shrubs and trees are, in effect, the permanent residents in the garden, always there, quietly watching the passing and ever-changing parade of the herbaceous plants that come and go in a year or so. There is nothing about many of them that can be regarded as spectacular — unless you choose to ignore the effect that a huge bank of rhododendrons and azaleas can have in late spring, with their combined force of eye-popping colour and intoxicating perfume.

For purposes of introduction the two groups have to be brought together and their differences explained. To the uninitiated a shrub may appear to be simply a tree that hasn’t grown up. Everybody knows what a tree looks like, but how do you recognize a shrub? In fact, the difference is very simple. A tree’s branches always spring from the one trunk, and some distance from the ground. A shrub does not have one centre trunk — not in this sense, anyway. The branches are formed much nearer ground level, in some cases below it, so that they emerge almost as though they were separate entities. Size has nothing to do with it: some shrubs are bigger than some trees.


Taking trees and shrubs together, there is one major difference between them and the bulbs, perennials and annuals. The herbaceous types can be removed from place to place at fairly frequent intervals, and indeed sometimes should be for their own benefit. A tree or shrub, once planted, is there for life, and it can be a very long life. Only in very rare circumstances indeed are they moved, and then it is a major operation.

There are two types of shrubs and trees: deciduous and evergreen. The deciduous ones lose their leaves in winter and form new leaf buds, followed by that delightful pale green sheen that lets us know spring is on the way. The evergreens do not keep their leaves permanently: they remain in place through the worst of the winter, as though staying on duty to provide us with some leaf colour in the darkest days. Then, as a rule, they moult quietly in spring when there is so much activity going on among the bright young herbaceous plants that nobody notices what is happening elsewhere.

Trees and shrubs can form, so often, the focal point of your garden, irrespective of what else grows there. Be careful only to ensure that you are not overpowered by them.

One of my earlier gardening adventures was in a London suburb. The back gardens were quite small, and in the one that backed on to mine was a huge plane tree. It had thrived over the years, as plane trees do in London, and by the time I moved in had spread its wings and was casting its shade over half a dozen gardens, which probably accounted for the fact that none of us could grow very much. In some ways we all welcomed it: in summer particularly it made a change for all of us from looking into the backs of the opposite row of houses, It was a calling post for birds from the nearby parks, and it was a focal point for all of us, though I could have wished for something more ornamental.

The point is that whoever had planted that tree, thirty or forty years previously, obviously had given no thought as to how big it would grow and what its ultimate effect would be, not only in his own garden but in the surrounding ones. It really did dominate, and of course it shut out a lot of light.

So one thing to bear in mind if you contemplate buying a tree or shrub is to make sure that it will not take over from you. One of the dangers is that the roots will not only throw up little woody mounds and make lawn-mowing difficult beneath the tree, but may also ruin a wall dividing your garden from the one next door, or even undermine the foundations of your own house.

You can, of course, have a large tree, or several of them, if your garden is big enough. From the London hack yard I have mentioned we went straight to a huge four-acre garden in Kent where, a century or so earlier, someone had planted a lime tree about thirty-three metres from the house. By the time we arrived on the scene it was a vast tree, twenty metres high, perhaps more, and its gnarled old roots, raising themselves inches out of the soil, made walking round the tree a hazardous occupation unless you looked very carefully where you were going.

But it was the ideal setting. The house and the tree were in perfect proportion to each other, and all we could do was to express our admiration for the man who had planted it. Being set at an angle from the corner of the house it did not dominate the view from the window, though we could see it. The late afternoon sun caused it to throw a shadow across the lawn, which was very pleasant, inviting us on a hot day to have our tea in a cool shady spot.

These two extremes from my own experience are, I know, rare, but they illustrate the point I am trying to make: that you should spend more time and thought on planning what to do about your trees and shrubs, and where to put them, than on any other part of the garden.

28. April 2011 by admin
Categories: Plants, Trees and Shrubs | Tags: , | Comments Off on Shrubs and Trees


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