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Guardian of the Garden

Picking the right tree will allow it to bloom into a feature of your yard

15.05.2019

One of the most significant decisions you can make when designing a garden is the selection of trees for the space.

Garden designer and Home Base expert Lisa Passmore says trees are an essential inclusion in any garden, bringing life and structure to the landscape.

Trees not only create microclimates enabling other plants to thrive, they also attract birds, bees, butterflies and other invertebrates.

“Trees are the guardians of the garden and in many cases will outlive those that plant them,” she says.

Lisa says planting trees is an investment in the future and there is a tree to suit every garden. Not only are they nature’s air-conditioners but they can also moderate the temperatures of our homes to make us feel more comfortable all year round.

Planting a deciduous tree on the north-western side of a property provides much needed shade in summer from their leafy canopies and in winter the bare stems allow the sun to penetrate our homes, letting in warmth and light.

Lisa advises that when selecting trees for your garden, research the height and width of the mature tree to ensure it will be proportionate to the space.

“Books and internet are useful but always seek local advice from a horticulturist or landscape professional,” she says.

LISA PASSMORE’S TOP TEN TREES FOR PERTH GARDENS (Trees are evergreen unless otherwise stated)

  1. Callistemon viminalis (weeping bottlebrush): This is certainly one for the birds. Plants produce bright red flower spikes which are rich in nectar and attract many birds. Plants grow in a variety of soils but can be frost-tender when young. Callistemon ‘Dawson River Weeper’ will grow to about 3m high and wide.
  2. Corymbia ficifolia (grafted red flowering gum): Originating in WA, this has bird-attracting (especially parrot) flowers in a range of colours including red, orange, white or pink on a rounded canopy. Growing to about 6m tall, it is a hardy tree for most soil types. Grafted versions give you a colour guarantee (pink, red and orange are among the most popular) which is not possible from seedling varieties.
  3. Diospyros kaki (persimmon): Deciduous. Persimmons are attractive small trees (about 5m tall) that suit both small and large gardens. Persimmon trees have fabulous autumn colour with leaves turning glorious shades of red, orange and gold before dropping in autumn. Traditional persimmon varieties such as “Dai Dai Maru”are classed as astringent, which means the fruit can only be eaten when they’re ripe and very soft (almost custard like). Newer varieties such as “Fuyu” are non-astringent and can be eaten while the fruit is still firm. Plant in the cooler months and choose an open, sunny spot that’s sheltered from strong winds.
  4. Eucalyptus forrestiana (fuchsia mallee): Reminiscent of baubles on a Christmas tree, the highly ornamental red nuts give way to bright yellow flowers from December to March. It grows to 3m, making it the ideal size for any garden.
  5. Grevillea (Grevillea ‘Honey Gem’): A tall shrub, growing to about 3m with amber-coloured flowers that are extremely attractive to birds. A hybrid between Grevillea banksii and Grevillea pteridifolia, it flowers virtually non-stop for most of the year. Remove lower branches to create a tree-like canopy. This tree is perfect for small gardens.
  6. Hymenosporum flavum (native frangipani): This is a rainforest tree which is native to Queensland and New South Wales, which may explain its tendency to grow like a skyrocket with rapid but open canopy growth. You can achieve a thicker canopy with light tip pruning as the tree grows and will be rewarded with abundant fragrant (jasmine/frangipani like) blooms. If you have enough space, try planting a copse of these stunning trees. Being the same species you can plant them closer together and the foliage and roots will merge sympathetically. You can expect them to grow to about 8m tall in Perth though they can be maintained below that if required.
  7. Lagerstroemia indica (crepe myrtle): Deciduous. The Indian Summer crepe myrtles make an ideal choice as a flowering tree in the heat of Australia’s mid-to late summer. With outstanding autumn colour, stunning flowers and an ornamental trunk, this tree ticks all the boxes for a fabulous feature. Sizes vary depending on cultivar.
  8. Prunus cerasifera (flowering plum): Deciduous. Narrow in form and hardy with rich burgundy foliage and pretty flowers in spring, ‘Oakville Crimson Spire’ grows to between 3-5m tall.
  9. Pyrus calleryana (ornamental pear): Deciduous. These lovely ornamental pears can handle everything from heat and drought to water-logged soil. They have an excellent show of flowers in spring and good autumn colour. Sizes vary depending on cultivar.
  10. Triadica sebifera (Chinese tallow): Deciduous. Excellent for Perth conditions, a tough and adaptable medium-sized tree that grows to between 5-7m tall. It performs well in difficult sites from cool to warm temperate areas. A good feature tree in parks and gardens, in lawns or beds.

Lisa Passmore is the director and chief designer at Inspired by Nature. She also writes and presents the Home Base 4 week Garden Design course.