by Sarah Naybour
16th February 2016

Sustainable planting is a hot topic in landscape design and the role of the tree is central to it. As Rita von Schoenaich warned at the Big Tree Debate at the Garden Museum last year, in 100 years’ time there would no longer be any big old trees in London as we are no longer replanting them By this she means the large varieties; Lime, Ash, or Plane. Trees with proper crowns, that mitigate urban heat islands, air pollution and drainage problems. She would like to see ‘One big chap….planted for every 50 car parking spaces or maybe a Boris Law so that no street trees can be planted that will not reach Boris’s girth by the time they reach 50’!



And Girth is very important when choosing a tree. It refers to the measurement around the trunk of the tree and is the way of telling its age. So unlike Boris’s girth, when it comes to trees the bigger the better!!  So, when you are choosing a tree the price will often relate to the size of girth. In fact there is a lot of information to understand. Take for example this page from the Majestic Trees website.

  • Girth = measurement around the trunk in cm.
  • Pot size = this refers to the size of the rootball and is measured in litres. A 1050 litre pot would need specialist lifting equipment, underground fixing, irrigation etc. If you are unsure it is always good to call the nursery and ask them for dimensions and planting instructions. For something this size you can ask them to do the planting for you which usually comes with a warranty.
  • Height = you will see that some trees are measured by height and some by pot size. Again you can ask if you are unsure.
  • Shape = Std means it is a standard shape tree: trunk + canopy.
  • MS means Multi-stem. The tree will have a series of smaller ‘trunks’ growing out of the ground from the root ball. Be aware that some nurseries cheat and plant three single trees in one pot to create a multi-stem look.
  • HS means Half Standard. Here the trunk is shorter than usual; the branches start lower down the trunk.
  • Fth means Feathered. This is a single trunk with branches starting close to the ground. Giving the tree a shrub look.

Prices on websites do not usually include VAT or delivery.


Pleached trees have been very popular in urban gardens, used as high screening, but they are also useful in large gardens like here where they have been used to edge a dining terrace. This works so well as an extension of the architecture of the house, and acts as a lovely transition between the hard lines of the house and the gentler mood of the garden.

They can also be used to echo the shapes of harder surfaces. I love how the lit recesses in these pink walls mimic the clear stems of these Hornbeam.


Hornbeam is a favourite for pleaches, but its good to think outside the box a bit, like here in Arne Mayard’s Chelsea garden, where he used rows of pleached copper beech (Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea) to create an intimate pathway through the garden.

You may also see on offer ‘cloud pruned’ trees. These usually have a multi stem but the stems are stripped clean to create a cloud effect overhead, revealing strong architectural stems with a canopy which seems to float.

Cloud pruning can also refer to the Japanese style of creating small clouds of foliage at the tips of branches on evergreen such as this Ilex crenata that I used to stunning effect in the Marylebone courtyard I designed in 2013. These were the only plants in the scheme, like giant bonsai they stand in each corner visible from every room in the apartment.

So if you can add tree to your garden, give one as a present, or make sure it’s in your garden designer’s brief.

Websites of interest:

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