Holly Kerr Forsyth: trees for all seasons. Open Garden with Helen Young.
Whether ornamental, architectural or flagging the changing seasons, trees star in all kinds of spaces
Apart from being essential for the health of our environment, trees have many uses. In gardens they provide fragrance and colour, structure and essential design features. Deciduous trees ensure the excitement of the changing seasons, while conifers can provide the “bones” of a garden. Trees are also repositories of history and of stories. If they could speak, they would have many tales: of hopes and dreams and of desperation.
Early European settlers transported acorns and seeds in their pockets so they could create gardens that reminded them of home. In one garden along Tasmania’s Midlands Highway, an avenue of elms that leads into the property was planted as seed in 1830. At a nearby superfine merino stud, the avenue of oak grew from acorns planted in 1840.
A tree for all seasons, oaks ( Quercus spp.) are deservedly among the most prized of the ornamental trees. Comprising about 600 species, oaks are perfect in large gardens. Slow growing and living to a great age, their wood is prized for shipbuilding, flooring and furniture. Most are disease resistant and require little pruning.
The English oak ( Q. robur) is the best known, eulogised in literature and in paintings of the English landscape school. Early colonial artists, such as Louis Haghe, Joseph Lycett and John Glover, often depicted the landscapes of their pastoralist patrons as an Arcadian idyll of a bucolic life, and as late as 1869 Louis Buvelot was painting eucalypts in the shape of oaks.
And south of Perth, particularly in the Margaret and Blackwood river areas, the forests of karri ( Eucalyptus diversicolor) and marri ( Corymbia calophylla) that broke the hearts of earliest European settlers as they struggled to build in the new colony remain magnificent today.
In villages around the country, the young men killed in World War I are remembered by the plantings of poplars and memorial drives of evergreen conifers.
Nowhere are trees more revered and respected than in Japan. In winter, conifers are wrapped in straw to protect them from snow. The limbs of ancient trees, such as those at Kenrokuen, an 11ha stroll garden in the mountain city of Kanazawa, are lovingly supported by large poles.
Kenrokuen was developed from the 17th to the 19th centuries by the Maeda clan as the outer fortification to their castle. The name of the garden, taken from Chinese aesthetic of the Song period, represents six attributes considered desirable for a perfect landscape: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, waterways and panoramas.
The famous black pine ( Pinus thunbergii), held up by solid poles all year, is protected from heavy winter snowfalls by an ingenious system of ropes, erected in a tent-like arrangement. It was planted as a seed brought from nearby Lake Biwa by the 13th Maeda warlord in the 19th century.
The Judas tree ( Cercis siliquastrum), said to be the tree from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself after he betrayed Jesus, is native to the Middle East. Its cousin, the black-leafed Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, loves a cold climate and looks wonderful underplanted with black tulips and black-flowering hellebores.
The horse chestnut ( Aesculus hippocastanum), a majestic tree in any large garden, also provides flour in some parts of the Middle East.
Slow growing and living to a great age, oaks are prized for shipbuilding, flooring and furniture