In creating your garden, the first consideration should be given to your trees. All garden design decisions are secondary to the significance of finding the perfect tree, to be planted in the perfect place in your garden.
I appreciate this starting point, while writing from an adirondack chair set beneath my favorite tree, a grand old Coast Live Oak. From our family’s tree we watch the birds and squirrels, we appreciate the breeze catching the leaves, we track the sun through its shadows, we stretch out our hammock, and it may be where we have our next life changing epiphany. Everyone needs a great tree to come home to.
Mirroring our nature, our gardens are transitory works of love and passion. We’re lucky to see them last more than a few generations, as we watch time weathering away at all we had so thoughtfully planned, nurtured, and worked to perfection. Of all the elements of our gardens, trees have the greatest chance of carrying on long past our lifetimes. We each have fond memories of a grandparent’s favorite Oak, Redwood, or fruit tree, which they tell of planting from a seedling almost a century ago. Though we don’t often like to project ourselves that far into the future, the trees we plant may be living on to be enjoyed by our great grandchildren. What a great way to be remembered.
With trees being such an important part of your garden, consider these to be the FIRST purchase that you make as you construct your garden. A garden, no matter what the size, is a complex project, taking a long time to perfect. In looking at a landscape creation as a series of smaller projects, it may be accomplished as one’s time and budget allows. As I have so often experienced, gardens may take five to ten years or more to be fully implemented. In that time, garden owners invariably hold back on the planting of their trees. They miss so many years of enjoying their growing trees.
In selecting trees for your garden, be sure to research their growth habits, seasonal change characteristics, and potential pest, disease, and structural problems. You will find it difficult to find a tree with all of the qualities you desire, so your tree choices will probably be a compromise, accepting some mess or flaw in order to gain some desired shade or ascetic.
How often I am asked to suggest trees for a garden, with the assurance that that they “aren’t messy”. I’ve not yet been able to find such a tree to recommend. All trees shed their leaves, their bark, their flowers, and their seed pods, drop their branches and lift the earth with their roots, each in their own way. Some tree species are more tolerable than others. So, it becomes a matter of what mess you’re willing to put up with. All trees have issues.
Plant the largest trees that your budget and site conditions will allow. Planting a minimum of a 15 gallon tree with installation will cost in the range of $120 to $150. The next size available is a 24” box tree, costing $500 to $750, and a 36” box at $1500 to $2000. Trees grown in larger boxes, ranging in size from 36” up to 6’, 7’, 8’, and even larger are referred to as “specimen” trees. Bulldozers or cranes are required for planting these larger boxed trees. A Landscape Architect or Contractor can help you in recommending and purchasing trees of these sizes from specialty wholesale tree nurseries.
While you’re out and about, searching for your “Perfect Tree” this list of a few Bay Area favorites may get your started. Nurseries prefer use of botanical names (in parentheses):
Trees for your Grandchildren:
* Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
* Strawberry Tree (Arbutus ‘Marina’)
* Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica ‘Tuskarora’)
* Red Maple (Acer rubrum ‘October Glory)
* Persimmon ‘Fuyu’
* Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis)
* Flowering Cherry (Prunus serrulata ‘Akebono’)
Trees for your Great Grandchildren:
* Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)
* Valley Oak (Quercus lobata)
* Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)
* Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
* Fruitless Olive Tree (Olea europea ‘Swan Hill’)
* California Pepper (Schinus mollis)