It is quite possible, in designing a landscape, for the artist-designer to use certain evergreen trees as defined, geometric shapes. Yews, in particular, can be trained and clipped to form sharp-edged cones, hollies can be clipped to form completely round tops on long bare trunks, and there is now a modern craze for training a variety of evergreen to grow as double spirals. None of this is new; it has been done for at least fifteen hundred years. The art of Topiary, of long-tailed peacocks cut from yew, of chickens and dolphins and dancing bears is an old one, which has several times died out, only to be brought back to life years later.
All this training and shaping and clipping of evergreen trees to make art forms is extremely labor intensive â less so than it was because of power shears, but still a time- consuming task, which the original landscape designer may not have given sufficient thought to.
In using trees for effect in the landscape, it is much wiser, and a far better gardening practice, to choose trees in the first instance which have the shapes that will give the desired effect.
In the valleys and hills of Tuscany, where the land has been cultivated for more than two thousand years, white dusty roads wind in zig-zags up and down the hills, as far as the eye can travel. Many of them have been planted, by the farmers, with avenues of evenly spaced cypresses. No-one who, from the other side of a valley, has seen those winding avenues of tall, narrow, sharp-pointed trees, of almost uniform height and width, can fail to be impressed with the genius of the farmers who planted them. This is a landscape design which could well be copied elsewhere to great advantage. The trees have not been clipped or trimmed in any way â they have grown into this beautifully disciplined and regular shape with no further care after the planting.
The icing on the cake, however, takes the breath away. On the hillsides up which these cypress avenues wind and zig-zag, are groves of perfectly spaced olive trees. The contrast between the dark green, tall and pointed cypresses and the grey-green, short and rounded olives is â breathtaking. There is simply no other word.
It is this contrast which we should try to achieve when using trees in the landscape. There should be a contrast in the tree forms, not brought about by artificial clipping and pruning, but in the forms themselves. A graceful willow bending its boughs to the rainstorm is a perfect foil for the upwards turning branches of a sturdy ash.
There should be contrast in the colors, as with the cypresses and olives. This does not need to be the use of a red maple against the bright green leaves of a beech in early summer. If you look at any naturally grown wood shore on the edge of a field, you will see that, although all the trees in summer may be described as green, there is an infinite variety in the shades of green. So too in winter â the bark of a cherry is a very different brown from that of the oak. In spring when the buds start to swell, the silver birches are reddish-purple, while the alders are covered in bright blue buds. All these contrasts should be taken into account when planting.
The aim, in any landscaping with trees, must be to plant for posterity. Planting can be done to create a perspective, as happens with the evenly spaced cypresses and olives, in which case only two, or possibly three, different kinds of tree should be used, so as not to break the continuity. As the older trees die, it is easy to replace them with new trees and so the landscape goes on for ever.
Or, the aim is to create a background, as would be done with a thick belt of trees planted to create a boundary. Decide on the trees that are to last for a hundred years or more, and plant these well apart, the oaks, elms, sweet chestnuts, limes, hornbeams, walnuts, - the great and noble deciduous trees. These are all trees that will eventually grow to a majestic height. Include some slow-growing evergreens, yews, scots pines, cedars if the climate allows.
In between the trees for posterity, plant clumps of faster growing trees that will not only encourage the 'posterity' trees to grow upwards, but will give a thick belt of varied trees within a short period to delight the designer's eye. These are trees which can easily be cut down and taken out at a later date, but for the next twenty years will fill the landscape. Silver birches, alders, rowans, all the wild fruit trees â apples, pears, cherries, plums, hazel. Between the clumps, you can plant spreading low trees and bushes, such as medlars or rhododendrons and azaleas. These, again, will grow fast, flower well and fill the gaps in the landscape.