Trees provide permanent features in a yard. They will be there for a long time, and, once established, are difficult to move; think carefully about what you want to plant and where. Consider also the final height of the tree or, at least, its height after eight or ten years if it is a slow-maturing type. In small urban yards there is rarely space to plant a large tree; it will not only plunge your own house and garden into darkness, but the neighbors may suffer too. Don’t be tempted by melancholic weeping willows or blue Atlas cedars. By the time they are too large for the space, you will need to pay an arborist a handsome sum to remove them without destroying anybody’s property. Instead, think small, or choose a tree that may be pruned regularly to keep it in check.
A tree in the yard is like a large piece of furniture in a house: its
sheer volume limits its placing. Before committing to a final position,
ask friends to help by holding up long canes or broomsticks where you
are planning to plant. Look at them from key points in the house, such
as a kitchen or living room, and in the yard, perhaps from an entrance
or seating area.
Consider, too, the position of the sun in relation to the tree and the
shade it will cast. Think of how and when you use particular areas. To
create a brightly lit breakfast area, for example, plant your tree on
the west side of the garden, or position a tree on the east or north
side of your property to catch the setting sun on an evening terrace. A
play area needs shade during the hottest part of the day, while
vegetable beds need sun all day.
Trees also make beautiful features in a garden room. Several of the
dogwoods, such as the early summer-flowering Cornus controversa or C.
kousa, and Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), with their cut foliage and
fall tints, make striking focal points in a lawn, courtyard area, gravel
garden, or at the end of a vista. Alternatively, select a tree with
multiple stems such as a silver birch; the white trunks and branches
take on a leading role in dark winter months when the leaves have
Choose trees that will be happy with the soil and climate in your yard. A
local nursery should be able to advise you as to what will perform best
in your area. There are also a host of decorative features to take into
As trees flower for a comparatively short time, it may be best to regard
blossoms as an added bonus rather than the main attraction. Fruits,
berries, or interesting seedpods are worth considering, as they often
last longer than flowers. But the most enduring feature of any tree is
the color, texture, and shape of the foliage and stems. Feathery acacias
and cut-leaf maples, for example, offer a light, soft touch, creating
dappled shade. Use the layered open habit of Cornus alternifolia to
introduce horizontal lines, or a cherry with an upright habit to add a
While fall color is a seasonal attraction, use trees with year-round yellow, red, or variegated foliage sparingly. The dark purple leaves of Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’, Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’, or bronze-leaved Malus ‘Profusion’ can add drama but, to prevent them from looking gloomy, set them against lighter colors. Too much yellow can also be overpowering, though trees such as Acer japonica ‘Aurea’ or Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Aureomarginata’ can brighten up dull areas. A tree with colorful foliage, such as this variegated form of Cornus controversa, creates a spectacular show in a border, providing height, design focus, and a shady area beneath for woodland plants.