Designing Height in your Garden

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Designing new trees into a garden can fill people with trepidation. The wrong tree can outgrow its space, casting shade, or in can drop unwanted leaves, its roots can undermine houses or it can not survive the soil or wind conditions.

This article will help you choose the right tree for the right place. Given that most of our gardens are on the small to medium size I will concentrate on trees from 2 to 5 metres in height


Trees must be chosen carefully.

A well-positioned tree with a delicate and spacious leaf and branch character can create a canopy that will give your garden a sense of height, enclosure, intimacy and privacy without dominating the garden.



Choosing more than one new tree in your garden can give your garden a more glade-like effect. They can soften the effect of neighbours’ houses and overlooking windows and actually make the garden feel bigger as a canopy immediately stimulates our memories of the countryside and different landscapes we have visited. If your garden is quite bare, planting trees normally means selecting more than one so that the ‘weight’ and ‘volume’ of them will balance each other. However, if you have a large tree next door, you can factor this in as your own, and therefore all you need to do is balance this neighbour’s tree with one or two of your own.


Evergreen trees

Small evergreen trees

The more robust the evergreen presence you want, say for privacy, the more dense the leaf canopy needs to be. This can have the advantage of being perfect for screening but they will still cast shade and if you grown them near a fence careful that over time they won’t also block out your neighbours view or light. Also they will want to protrude outwards as well as grow upwards so this has to be factored in.

For a denser canopy of leaves, these are some of my favourites: Arbutus Uendo, Magnolia Little Gem, Ligustrum excelcium, Loquat and Photinia. Photinia is a common tree, normally kept as a hedge, but still a high performer with its electric red leaves. If you have acid soils you can go for the Rhododendrons and Camellias.

More delicate evergreens are Olives, Pittisporum ‘Silver Queen’ and Viburnum tinus whilst Ceanothus can form an ‘umbrella’ like shape over a bed or path.


Delicate small trees that loose their leaves

 Don’t forget you relax in your garden mainly in the warmer months so think hard before you buy an evergreen. They are less generous to wildlife normally, and will you really be needing their shade, privacy or dense green backdrop over the Winter months?

For a more open canopy that lets dappled light through, you could think of Amelenchier lamarki, Weeping Birch, Weeping Cherry, Malus Red Sentinal, Sorbus Pink Pagoda (or the smaller Sorbus pseudovilmorinii), Cercis Forest Pansey (or the smaller green leaved Cercis Avondale). Albezia is a heavenly tree though it needs a lot of sun and a sheltered position.

There is also Prunus amanogawa, Hamamelis and the perfectly formed, classic of all small trees, the Japanese Acers. The only trouble with these is they like to be the centre of attention and need a lot of neutral space around them. Laburnum Golden Showers, is a tree that has gone out of fashion but after the yellow display of flowers in Spring has a very interesting branch structure. Prunus Hally Jolvette is worth considering as it has a well behaved rounded canopy and only gets to 5 metres in height.

Also think about Acer griseum (The Paperbark Tree), Salix exiguta and the two small Magnolias, ‘India Magic’ and ‘ Laura’. For wildlife try the Hawthorn ‘Prunifolia’. The Salix is a great bad haircut looking tree and suits filling up a space in the very back of a garden or next to a large pond.

All of these trees will give your garden a lovely sense of breadth and depth without a tree surgeon being called in every year. Also the vertical fruit trees like Malus ‘Adirondack’ and Malus Ballerina can be tucked away in a bed and nicely contrast any weeping trees you might have.


Unusual Trees

For more unusual trees you could try Rhus lacinata (though it will sucker with its roots over the years) You could also think of Euonymous Red Cascade, Liquidamber ‘Gum Ball’ or the majestic, if slow growing, Cornus cousa ‘Miss Satori’. The ‘Gum Ball’ only gets to 2.5m and as you can imagine the autumn colours alone make it worth growing.

Acacia pravissima is another interesting tree with an open canopy, especially if you are considering a Mediterranean style garden.

For Winter colour have a look at Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Jelena’.

For a tropical look, try Catalpa bignonioides ‘nana’.

For a haphazard small tree with amazing purple leaves and rich dark purple berries look up Malus toringo ‘Scarlett’.



Some shrubs can be turned into trees by pruning the lower branches.

Some examples are: Sambucus ‘Sutherland’s Gold’ and Sambucus ‘Black Lace’.


So, have a look at your garden and see where the powerful atmosphere a small tree can exude. They will give you more depth and a landscape-quality, light canopy. And don’t just plant one. See how three or four can be planted in combination to revitalise that unlimited extra space in your garden – the sky!


Where to Visit in June

Every year Parham redoes its borders and transforms them with new themes.

The whole place has an intimate and timeless quality.

Opening times though check online first.


House | 14:00 – 17:00

Gardens | 12:00 – 17:00

Big Kitchen Restaurant | 12:00 – 17:00

Last Admission | 16:30

Parham Park, Pulborough RH20 4HS


What to do in June

Lots to do so stop reading this and get out there!

 -but if you are just having a quick tea break read on.

Dead head roses and give them their Summer feed

Divide finished bulbs

Water any new plants you have put in this Spring

Pinch out Fuchias to help them flower into bushy sprays

Cut back old geranium foliage as they will grow again

Plant out seed potatoes and tomatoes, the latter in the sunniest place you have

Believe it or not it is still not too late to plant runner beans

Some generous handfuls of manure for your roses.

Keep seeding new rows of salad vegetables

By |2024-01-26T11:08:44+00:00January 26th, 2024|Articles, Blog, Plant Combinations|Comments Off on Designing Height in your Garden

About the Author:

In 2006 I formed Glorious Gardens, gathering together skilled practitioners to offer not just design but implementation of these designs and maintenance packages where we could look after the gardens once we had created them. Throughout my career I have designed gardens to inspire people with the heart aching beauty of nature, with shapes, colours, moods and proportions to pleasure the body and calm and delight the mind. I am also an artist who works with colour and abstract shapes and I bring this sensitivity to the 4 dimensions of a garden. I am very good at listening to clients and I’m able to draw out the essence of what a client wants for their outdoor space.