Dream Acres week nine: Trees and Hedges

 * For more Dream Acres and to find out how to create your own Dream Acres please see our microsite which explains  how to create perfect tress and hedges

‘Graffe, set, plant and nourishe up trees,’ advised John Gerard in 1597, ‘in euery corner of your grounde.’ Advice we’ve heeded at our fantasy estate, Dream Acres.

When you turn in at the main entrance, past oaks and beeches, the house and park are obscured by an orchard of ornamental crab apples and stands of acers. As the drive sweeps around, the house is seen through clumps of Malus Evereste, chosen for its glorious pink flowers in spring and red-and-orange-striped fruit in the autumn. The front courtyard is flanked by loosely pleached lime trees.

Moving around the west side of the house, you cross the lawn to reach a hawthorn avenue (Cratae-gus persimilis Prunifolia, at its best in the autumn, with its flashy show of scarlet, yellow and purple), which, in turn, is lined with a crinkle-crankle hedge of beech. Passing the swimming pool, you proceed down a grass path through a copse of white-flowering magnolia and along an avenue of walnut trees.

Walking across the field below the house, you spot a grove of silver birch, and, on the other side of the east wing, past the native hedge, you discover the orchard, with its neat lines of fruit and nut trees. The borders with farmland are marked with native mixed hedges, and, elsewhere in the demesne, specimens of native oak, ash, beech, limes, quickthorn and hawthorn enhance the view.

Recommended videos for you

Arabella’s advice for planting trees

By the time a tree-planting mistake comes to light, it’s often difficult to do much about it. One can prune the tree, of course, or cut it down completely. But, otherwise, one pretty much has to live with it. Therefore, we asked Arabella to answer the most frequently asked tree-planting questions.

Where should I consider planting?

‘In a garden or landscape, trees are the central structural element. So your choice of where to plant will be determined by what you want to achieve. As well as having ornamental value, trees can be used to enclose, frame, link, emphasise, enlarge or subdivide a space. You can utilise them as a visual screen and boundary. They may also be needed to provide shade, height and/or emphasis.’

How do I choose the right trees?

‘If you have a clear idea about the sort of effect you want to achieve, the choice of trees becomes a lot easier. Obviously, you will have certain qualities in mind thick foliage, for instance, or a specific size, shape or colour range. There will also be practical considerations linked to rainfall, type of soil, exposure and so forth. In a broad landscape, it is best to use trees that are indigenous to the area. Trees with a natural form always seem to work better in a soft landscape, and more angular trees can be ideal for a formal space. Never plant a tree without knowing how large it is likely to get. Remember: most fruit trees need to be planted in groups to ensure pollination.’

How many trees should I plant together?

‘This depends on the effect you want to achieve. By and large, unless you are designing for a small space, it is better to plant trees in groups whether in stands, clumps or in a geometric formation. Trees planted too closely together, however, will not flourish.’

If one doesn’t have the patience to wait for trees to grow, what do you recommend?

‘There are several options. Depending on what you are trying to do, you may find that you can plant mature and semi-mature trees. You should take specialist advice, however, to ensure that the trees selected will thrive in the chosen location.

Another option is faster-growing varieties, such as lime, ash and (despite what many people think) oak. With regard to the latter, Quercus petraea and Quercus robur are surprisingly fast-growing. In damper areas, try Salix alba, Salix fragilis, European native willows, alders and poplars.’

Can you suggest some different things to plant under trees?

‘At Dream Acres, I have planted a collar of hebe under the lime trees in the entrance-forecourt garden. You could substitute this with box or Skimmia laureola. You could also plant small bulbs, as found at Sissinghurst in the lime avenue.

For trees planted in the wider garden, you could try Cyclamen hederifolium or coum, small-flowered daffodils, sheets of scillas or Crocus tommasinianus, all in huge drifts. In woodland areas, keep planting simple (and do not mix varieties).

Good options include daffodils, snowdrops, camassias, cyclamen and Crocus tommasinianus. Plant shrubs in large clumps (think big!). In the wood at home, I have planted large drifts of Rhododendron augustinii in various shades of pale blue to dark mauve, together with Cornus controversa Variegata.’

What’s your favourite tree?

‘Near the bridge at Dream Acres, I’ve planted my favourite tree, the wonderful Pterocarya fraxinifolia, which I love for its long necklaces of green catkins.’


Last winter, as I was laboriously laying a long, mixed border hedge of holly, guelder rose, spindle, buckthorn, elder, sea buckthorn, blackthorn and hawthorn, it occurred to me how much easier the Roman method was. First, they smeared plant seed over a piece of old rope, and then they buried it in a shallow trench. And that was that.

Hedges have been planted since Neolithic times to control livestock, provide shelter and add extra security. As ancient civilisations developed, they were also used in garden design for decoration, privacy and to delineate different spaces. There are several hedges at Dream Acres.

Around the secret garden and to the west of the house, protecting the early spring beds, we’ve planted yew, and, to create a spectacular entrance to the swimming pool (and to hide it from general view), we’ve planted beech. On the borders, we have planted mixed native hedges.

Hedging plants

For security and fields: buckthorn, blackthorn, hawthorn. Protect young hedges from livestock and rabbits

For evergreen hedges: boxwood, laurels, holly, yew

For a classic hedge: beech or hornbeam. The dead leaves of beech don’t fall, giving long-lasting cover

For flowering hedges: Hybrid Musk roses, Cornus mas, Crataegus monogyna, Euonymus europaeus, Viburnum opulus Malus sylvestris, Rosa rubiginosa, R. rugosa, R. pimpinellifolia  
For native hedges: elder, hawthorn, blackthorn, guelder rose, Rosa canina

Great British hedges

Our six favourite gardens with great hedges are:

(1) Broughton Castle, Oxfordshire (box parterre)
(2) Chatsworth, Derbyshire (crinkle-crankle)
(3) Hidcote Manor, Gloucestershire (one fantastic hedge after another)
(4) Chirk Castle, Wrexham (magnificent yew hedges)
(5) Montacute House, Somerset (wavy, sculptured yew)
(6) Meikleour estate, Perthshire (said to be the longest, tallest hedge in the world)


Although the first major avenue in the country was probably created for Henry VIII’s palace at Nonsuch in Surrey, it was really a later royal gardener, André Mollet, who made them so popular.

In 1651, he stated that palaces should be approached by ‘une grande advenue’, consisting of double or triple rows of elms or limes. What followed were more than 200 years of fierce competition among British landowners to create the most dramatic and impressive avenue. All the great estates, such as Longleat, Chatsworth, Melbourne, Petworth, Castle Howard, Windsor and Blenheim, had at least one, sometimes more.

Yet an avenue doesn’t necessarily have to lead directly to a house (or castle), nor need it be especially long to achieve the desired effect. At Dream Acres, for instance, the avenue runs away from the house, on the south side. It’s planted with walnut trees (Juglans nigra), chosen for their soft, greyish leaves.

Arabella’s favourite trees for avenues

Large scale: the walnut family (Juglans, Carya, Pterocarya), oak, lime, beech, Quercus ilex, Catalpa, Fraxinus sieboldiana (syn. F. mariesii), Taxus baccata

Medium scale: Zelkova, Prunus, Populus lasiocarpa, Populus balsamifera.

Smaller scale: Sorbus aria Majestica, Crataegus Prunifolia, Malus floribunda or the species M. hupehensis, M. baccata or M. baccata var. mandshurica


It’s possible to create an arboretum on even a limited acreage, but it’s important to know how to start, advises Alaster Anderson of Alaster Anderson Gardens, Hampshire (www.organicgardens.co.uk).

A spectacular display of autumn colour is best achieved on acid soil, with species such as Nyssa sylvatica, Liquidambar and acers. If you have alkaline soil (limestone or chalk), planting will be most successful if you use trees that have spring blossom and autumn berries mulberries and quince are good.

The ground must be properly prepared. Consolidated soil with poor drainage is the biggest reason for a trees’ failure to thrive. A tractor and subsoiler, followed by a cultivator or rotavator, can negate this risk and decompact the soil.

Part of the pleasure obtained from a collection of trees is their history and heritage, so invest in labels and a catalogue.  

What trees and shrubs would you include in your dream arboretum? Let us know at countrylife_letters@ipcmedia.com

 * For more Dream Acres and to find out how to create your own Dream Acres please see our microsite which explains  how to create perfect tress and hedges