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Garden Design Issues – Planting Under A Magnificent Tree

Throwing flowers around a magnificent old tree is not usually the best way to give it the dignity it deserves. Here are some ideas to enhance the splendor of the tree.

A splendid tree is often or not, the central focal point in a garden. Sometimes, particularly in small, backyard and patio gardens, designers give the space directly surrounding the tree, a clearly defined edge, in order to emphasize its pivotal role in the composition. The question then arises as to how the ground underneath the tree should be covered.

Whatever plants or materials are chosen, and in whichever configuration, the aim should always be to ensure that the ground plane enhances the tree’s dominant role, and in no way detracts from it. Too often, one sees plants stuffed in the ground around a tree, more as an after thought than as a carefully considered decision as to how the picture as a whole can be completed. Let’s work then through a number of options.


Flowers are often planted around a tree because the gardener did not really know what else to do. “When in doubt, just pepper the garden with annual flowers”, seems to be the guiding principle here. The trouble is, that flowers are liable to compete with the tree for attention, while in design terms, the tree should be allowed to be the dominant factor. A confused and messy feel is likely to result, especially if a number of flower species are used. How for example, does a “riot of color” go with the gnarled and twisted trunk of an ancient olive tree?

Flowering plants could be suitable though if used with the clear design purpose of being an integral part of the composition, in which the tree has central stage. The plants should be carpet- forming, neat in form, and ideally of one color. (A monochromatic design) For instance, the pinkish red flowers of Bussy Lizzy (Impatiens) create an exciting combination with the lush foliage and colorful fruit of an orange tree. It’s important of course to make sure that the plants are shade loving.

Neat ground cover plants

Ground cover plants which create a neat carpet, complement very effectively trees of fine form and shape. An excellent example for a Mediterranean garden is the delicate-textured ground cover, Myoporum parvifolium, growing under a Pomegranate, Crape Myrtle, or Judas tree. Varieties of Ivy that have small leaves are also appropriate, although an annual cutting back of the Ivy will be necessary, to prevent it climbing up the tree. It may look pretty, but it will kill the tree in time.

Pebbles and wood chippings

Ornamental pebbles will provide the ordered, clean appearance required to set off the splendor of the tree. It’s important though to consider how the material to be used associates with different types of tree. Stones definitely imply aridity, and are therefore appropriate beneath dry climate species such as the Olive, but look incongruously out of place under palms or tropical plants. Wood chippings on the other hand, by imparting a “woodsy” feelBusiness Management Articles, look suitable under almost every kind of tree.

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My name is Jonathan Ya'akobi.I've been gardening in a professional capacity since 1984.I am the former head gardener of the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, but now concentrate on building gardens for private home owners.I also teach horticulture to students on training courses.I'd love to help you get the very best from your garden,so you're welcome to visit me on


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