A tree can be so much more than just a plant. When chosen correctly, it can act as a focal point, drawing you into the landscape and keeping you engaged as you move throughout your garden.
“There is not one single element that makes a perfect tree,” says Paula Benneian of POD Gardens. “You need to assess the site to understand what it needs.” Do you want to lift a small space, give your landscape structure, soften hard edges, make shade or create visual impact from indoors? Once you’ve decided, it’s a matter of choosing a tree to suit.
Make a statement
A good feature tree has a combination of practical and aesthetic value. Typically, one with grand stature, striking architectural shape, seasonal foliage, textural qualities or stunning flowers makes for the perfect candidate. “Something that stands out by itself, yet still makes sense being included in the garden,” says Grahame Rowe of Soil & Spade Garden Design and Consulting. “Take frangipanis. They offer lovely respite from the heat, show off a gorgeous silhouette in winter, and bloom profusely with divinely fragrant flowers in summer.” Sometimes, depending on available space, more is more. “A lone tree isn’t always the solution, and multi-planting the same species provides a much better ‘wow’ factor,” says Paula Benneian.
What to choose
“One of the most important factors when choosing a tree is the size: too big and you’re forever pruning, but too small and the effect is lost,” says Paula Benneian. Consider the size of your garden, and the ultimate height and spread of the tree before heading to the nursery. If you have a small garden, you can still find fabulous dwarf or compact species which offer impact but won’t encroach on your space. Don’t forget to think about climate and location, too. While fiery reds, oranges and yellows are signature autumnal hues of liquidambars, Japanese maples and crepe myrtles, their blazing colours tend to be less intense in warm climates. Look for other forms of seasonal ‘wow’. “Try ornamental plums, cherries and deciduous magnolias for an early spring display, jacarandas for mid-spring, and crepe myrtles, frangipanis and flowering eucalypts during summer,” suggests Angie Thomas of Yates.
Your tree should stand out, not stick out. For a feature tree in the middle of the garden, consider under-planting. “Try spill-over foliage plants, like lomandra or dianella, to help soften the base of the tree,” suggests Paula. Also, think about the ambience you’re looking to create – an established tree can add an evocative patina of age. “There’s something romantic about a garden that looks like it has been there long before you,” says Grahame Rowe. Don’t let your new feature waste away at night – use spotlights to help emphasise the shape of the trunk, or fairy lights along the branches for a magical feel, and consider the impact from indoors. “A deciduous tree planted near a north-facing window can create a stunning display from inside, but also provide shade in summer and let in the light and warmth during the cooler months,” says Paula.
“Take care of the tree initially and it will reward you for a lifetime”Paula Benneian
4 tips to growing a beautiful tree
- Prepare your soil prior to planting by adding organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure.
- If your soil is made up of heavy clay, add gypsum to help break it up. It may take a couple of weeks for it to break up, so be patient – your tree will appreciate it in the long run.
- When planting, dig a hole twice as wide as the rootball and to the same depth. “Otherwise it can rot and die,” says Paula.
- “Water well, and control vigorous grass and weeds around the root zones of trees while they’re establishing, as they compete for valuable water and nutrients,” says Angie Thomas of Yates.
Our top picks to shop
Small trees < 5 metres
- ‘Indian Summer’ crepe myrtle (small variety), from $385/50cm pot, Engel Trees
- Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum Atropurpureum’ (Japanese maple), from $200/ 40cm pot, Specialty Trees
- Magnolia ‘Teddy Bear’, from $269/40cm pot, Online Plants
- Mop top robinia, from $99, Hello Hello Plants & Garden Supplies
Medium trees 5–10 metres
- Ivory curl, from $99/45cm pot, Logan River Tree Farm
- Frangipani varieties, from $30/20cm pot, Frangipani Farm
- Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Vulcan’, from $185/40cm pot, Specialty Trees
- Betula ‘Moss White’, from $300/50cm pot, Specialty Trees
Large trees >10 metres
- Jacaranda, from $160/40cm pot, Specialty Trees
- Chinese elm, from $132.95/40cm pot, Dawson’s Garden World
- Pyrus ‘Chanticleer’, from $132.95/40cm pot, Dawson’s Garden World
- Fraxinus ‘Meczek’, from $230/45cm pot, Blerick Tree Farm
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