You can use trees in the garden for ornamental value, fruit, shade or even a specific function. Before making any selection, it is important to figure out why the tree is needed in a specific area in the garden. In general, trees are planted to create shelter, shade, screening or as a focal point. In large gardens you also have the option to plant groups of trees as well as a single specimen. There is however a vast difference between planting trees in a grouping to planting a single tree. A group of trees will most probably only create a background to a landscape, where a single tree can be used as a focal point. In a small garden you have less opportunity to plant trees and your selection criteria will need to include consideration for seasonal interest (Flowers, fruit, autumn colour), tree shape of a tree (Rounded, pyramid, columnar & more) and even leaf texture.
Once the purpose has been identified, finding a suitable tree for a location will in short depend on the available space, climatic conditions on the site. How do climatic conditions influence a tree choice? Firstly, if you are in an exposed landscape you will need to select species that can deal with full sun and strong winds at certain times of the year. Thus, selecting a more resilient tree species for example the White Milkwood, would be a better choice than Forest Elder. If you are in a housing complex with tall apartment buildings surrounding the garden, your site might be in full shade for most of the day and it would be best to consider trees that can tolerate more shade. Soil composition also influence tree choice as many species prefer well drained soil and will struggle to adapt to areas with heavy clay. Trees that generally grow quite fast and lush in a sub-tropical climate due to the high humidity and rainfall, will grow much slower and smaller in areas that have a Mediterranean climate. One good example of this would be the Leopard tree that grows extremely fast in the more tropical regions of South Africa compared to how they struggle to grow in gardens situated in the Western Cape.
In small townhouse gardens tree height, spread and growth rate need to be researched quite extensively to ensure the correct specie is selected for the required purpose and decorative value. The incorrect tree choice might influence overhead powerlines, structures and even the amount of sunlight the garden receives during the year. Most home gardeners make tree choices on look alone, not really considering how large a tree eventually will get when they are mature. I would not recommend planting a Rusty fig in a small garden where you only have a 4m x 6m space available as it will grow much too big and just look completely out of proportion. A beautiful Plane Tree can make a fantastic addition to any garden, but if planted in an average small garden it will need to be contained by pollarding the tree on a regular basis. This practice is often used worldwide to create a specific look in the garden.
We all want instant effect, and one of the selection criteria from private gardeners we are most often confronted with is that the trees needs to be fast growing. They usually want to screen out
neighbours and feel they need to plant as many trees as possible in the space available. Unfortunately, a fast-growing tree can easily outgrow the space provided in a short period of time, thus it is best to avoid overcrowding. Slow growing tree species are known to live longer and can easily be manicured to suit spaces in small and large gardens.
To keep interest in the garden throughout the year it would be best to look at a variety of tree species that have flowers, fruit & or seasonal leaf colour at different times during the year. This can include a collection made up out of indigenous as well as exotic species to create a diverse selection. With some diversity you do have opportunity to still create a stunning setting in the landscape. As landscaped areas are man-made creations, a mix of species will also reduce the accordance of pest and disease problems.
As no one gardener or garden is the same and each client comes with their own Pinterest board of what they like, it is very often necessary to find a tree species that would fall into a specific category.
Shade garden: Often the most difficult area to grow trees. Species most suited to this type of garden would be forest varieties as they have genetically been programmed to survive in the shade of other large trees. – Yellowwood species, Cape Holly, Assegai tree, Bladdernut
Woodland garden: Generally, a recreation of nature in the home garden and cannot be planned by plotting trees according to their mature size. Spacing is random and most often a collection of the same tree species in one location. – Silver Birch, Chinese popular, Fever Tree, Chinese Elm
Scented Garden: The more difficult of gardens to find a suitable tree for is a scented garden, as the selection is very limited. Magnolia, Gardenia, Keurboom, Natal Mahogany
Foliage Garden: A foliage garden that includes trees, is one of the most interesting to play with in the landscape. Leaf shape, colour and texture can differ vastly from one specie to the next. I was always taught to avoid too much variegated or yellow foliage as it can become a bit overwhelming. Flowering Plum, Conifers, Golden Elm tree
Gardens with autumn colour: Deciduous trees used in the landscapes for seasonal interest is always a winner in large as well as small gardens. Various deciduous trees keep their colourful autumn colours for a few months during the winter making the dull winter landscape just more appealing. Liquidambar, Pin Oak, Forest Bushwillow
Bird Garden: The retired gardeners are most often the people who would want to know which trees will attract birds to the garden. A large selection of indigenous trees is suitable for this purpose. Paperbark, Coral Tree, Crab Apple, Cape Holly, Wild Peach
Oriental gardens: Luckily this is not just a bonsai collection as many fruit trees are suitable for use in this form of garden. Evergreen conifer species usually make up the background and the fruit trees create focal points in the foreground. Peach, Plum, Cherry, Japanese maple, Cape Holly, Conifers
Topiary gardens: Formal clipped gardens have become very popular again in the last few years. Trees with smaller foliage that can easily be manipulated with regular pruning is what is most often used. Espaliered fruit trees are included in many small home gardens due to space limitations. Cape Holly, White Pear, Yellowwood, Conifers, Apple, Pear, Fig, Peach.