Tag Archives: trees

Trees in the Garden

April 5th, 2021 | 2 Comments »

Trees are an invaluable part of a garden, so important that they are sometimes called its bones because they hold the other parts of the garden together. They are slow to grow and consequently are often the first thing planted in a new garden or one undergoing renovation.

Trees do more than hold a garden together, though. They are miracle workers, cleaning the air, providing protection against wind and rain, focusing our view and, in northern regions at least, providing splendid colour in the fall.

 

Autumn colour is more intense some years than others.

 

At Glen Villa, they add privacy to a picnic area, creating a sense of enclosure as well as adding beauty.

 

Crabapple trees in bloom

 

In winter, their black trunks offer a contrast to white ground and snow on their branches makes lines in mid air.

 

untitled (1 of 1)

 

Trees can also shape emotional responses to our surroundings. In France, the road that leads to Chenonceau is lined  with closely-planted trees, and their elegant regularity transforms an ordinary journey into a stately procession.

 

This photo is from a dozen or more years ago. I hope the trees still look as good.
This photo is from a dozen or more years ago. I hope the trees still look as good.

 

In Italy, at the contemporary garden Il Bosco della Ragnaia, trees planted in lines create a different response. Instead of suggesting a stately procession, their lines marching across a field suggest order and discipline.

 

say something

 

At the English garden Stourhead, Henry Hoare and his successors grouped trees to form patterns of light and shade, emulating the paintings he admired.

 

The planting continues, judging by the small willow in the foreground.
The planting continues, judging by the small willow in the foreground.

 

At Petworth in Sussex,  Capability Brown placed single trees and groves to shape the view, sometimes in order to highlight attractive features, sometimes to hide unsightly ones — including whole villages from time to time.

 

A cropped view

 

In addition to being useful and beautiful, trees can also play tricks on our eyes and our sense of perspective.  A small tree planted in the distance looks farther away than it really is; a large tree on top of a hill makes the hill seem higher, and when a small plant is added in the foreground, the effect becomes even greater.

In Scotland, at Broadwoodside, a line of hornbeam trees (Carpinus betulus) seems to stretch out forever. The trees look as if they are evenly spaced but when I was there on a visit and walked along the path between the rows, I discovered that the journey was shorter than I’d thought: the distance between the trees changes as the path extends, and that change of spacing distorts what our eyes see and our brains register.

 

Looking out from the house towards the end of the allée, the spacing looks even.
Looking out from the house towards the end of the allée, the spacing looks even.

 

I could cite many examples from large properties where trees affect our sense of reality but the same principles can be used in much smaller gardens. There may not be a high hill or a sweep of ground long enough for a tree to exaggerate the distance, but plants of different sizes can do the same job.

The boxwood balls below, which I saw in Le Jardin Plume in Normandy, are all the same size. But imagine how your eye would be tricked if they became smaller as they receded. The path would look longer, particularly if the straight hedges and triangular form at the end of the path were shorter too.

Boxwood at Le Jardin Plume in Normandy

 

The bench we placed around the linden tree at Glen Villa provides a sense of scale, but we could distort that impression if we wanted to. The bench is now the right size for adults; if we made it the right height for small children, the tree trunk would look much longer and the tree itself appear more massive.

 

This photo is from Nov 6, 2005. So maybe autumn isn't late this year.
The effect of a lower bench would be greater if the photo was taken from farther away.

 

I played this trick on the eyes as part of Timelines, but there I reversed expectations: the Adirondack chair in the foreground is tiny while the one in the distance would fit a giant.

 

The sign near the chair spells out my intent.

 

Trees often mark boundaries, whether the side of a road or the edge of a stream or the line between one garden and another.  Less literally, they mark a boundary in time, between yesterday, when the tree began to grow, and today, when we see it, and tomorrow, when it is old and dying.

Looking back, I remember the maple tree that used to shade the house, and I see the sculpture that it has become. I think of the three words I chose to laser-cut into one the stainless steel rings: Seed • Shade • Shadow. They sum up the tree’s life story in a tidy fashion and I’m happy with the message they send. But at the same time I realize how inadequate words are when we try to sum up a life. They are never enough.

 

tree rings
I designed this sculpture to honour the life of the tree and named it Tree Rings to indicate how it grew, more in some years than in others.

 

Instead of looking back, I choose to look forward. The sycamore trees I planted in the meadow at Glen Villa a dozen years ago have not yet developed their camouflage bark but I know that one day, they will. And that gives me hope.

Do you have a favourite tree? Is it in your garden or in a park or one you only see in your dreams?

Tree Hugging for Tree Huggers

December 21st, 2020 | 16 Comments »
Do you know when the phrase 'tree hugger' was coined? I didn't, so I looked it up. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the term dates from 1965. Other words coined that year: jet lag, mini dress, pop art, teach-in, doo-wop and time traveller. Reading these words, I felt like a time traveller myself. In part this is because those words are so familiar now but also because the connotations of 'tree hugger' have changed so much. In 1965,  tree hugger was a derogatory term. Not so today.

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Special Trees

January 14th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
A piece about specimen trees in the on-line magazine Gardenista started me thinking about trees and how special they are to me. Having recently planted a long allée of crabapple trees at Glen Villa, (and having written about it here) where the impact stems from the sheer number of trees and the precision of their placement, my mind swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, to individual trees that make an impact on their own. The most important tree at Glen Villa, my garden in rural Quebec, is the basswood, or linden as I

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Giving Thanks

October 9th, 2017 | 15 Comments »
  Today is Thanksgiving day in Canada, and there is much to be thankful for. In the garden, colours are bright.   [caption id="attachment_5729" align="aligncenter" width="2820"] Sedum 'Autumn Joy' lives up to its name.[/caption]   Even when the flowers have faded, I'm thankful for work that's been done.  At the Aqueduct the catmint ( Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low') has been cut back, making the bed look more like a monk's shaved head than the overgrown mop of foliage it was only days ago.   [caption id="attachment_5743" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] Those stubs of nepeta between

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Trees at Glen Villa

August 30th, 2015 | 8 Comments »
Trees play a major role at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec's Eastern Townships. They provide shade in summer, colourful foliage in autumn and the promise that comes with spring green buds. In winter bare branches of deciduous trees offer a stark colour contrast outlined against the snow, and evergreens provide structure and a touch of colour in an otherwise muted world. Despite their many virtues, trees are not care-free. The old ones, in particular, need attention. At Glen Villa we have trees of all sorts, sizes and ages; but we have LOTS of

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Less is More… more or less.

August 18th, 2014 | 5 Comments »
A few weeks ago I wrote about The Big Rock and my plan to simplify the plantings around it, using a  lesson I learned from touring gardens in Italy. We haven't tackled that project yet. But we have tackled another area, applying the same principles of simplicity and balance to great effect.Beside the drive coming into the house is a large stand of spruce, planted there some 50 years ago. They are tall regal trees that mark a transition from open farm field to forested hillside. Until last week, they were

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Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

May 4th, 2014 | 3 Comments »
A botanical garden is a special type of place. It's a garden but it exists for scientific purposes and not for beauty. Yet I think that most people visiting a botanical garden expect to see a beautiful place, a landscaped garden where plants are displayed with artistry.Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden achieves both of these goals -- and, because of this, is often named as one of the world's great botanic gardens. Located on the slopes of Cape Town's Table Mountain, its setting is hard to beat for grandeur, even on

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A Breakfast of African Trees

April 22nd, 2014 | 5 Comments »
For a week I've been out of the loop -- no internet, no email, no phone. (It's been frustratingly wonderful.) Instead of posting blogs, I've been touring game parks in southern Africa, seeing amazing animals and even more amazing trees and shrubs. Here's a sample of some of the vegetation -- a tasty buffet, as it were.Every good breakfast includes an egg. So the first item on our menu of African trees and shrubs is the wild gardenia (Gardenia thunbergia). From a distance, the oval fruits resemble nothing as much as

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