Trees for small backyards

Clive Blazey explains why trees are the most important element in any garden, particularly in small spaces

Golden Rain Tree — Delicate foliage that yellows in autumn

In the inner city, trees are often overlooked, however they are pivotal in creating an outdoor area which is enticing and liveable.

Reality TV gardening programs showing a garden that is created in a week, mostly fail to meet the basic requirement of creating a cool, shady outdoor area where you feel like you are actually outdoors and immersed in nature, because they omit trees from their designs.

Proportions and space

In suburban gardens, trees need to be positioned so that they protect the garden from the savage north-facing sun, as well as providing privacy from neighbours.

Most urban trees should be no more than 10 metres tall at maturity, offering ample opportunity for the inclusion of shade tolerant plants underneath.

The larger backyards of the 80s were at least 200 square metres with space for 2-3 trees, 100-130 square metres of lawn, about 20 square metres for a mini-plot vegetable garden, with the balance for flowers, shrubs and, of course, the barbeque.

In gardens half this size, gardeners need to choose their elements more carefully, but there is still room for trees, whether they are purely ornamental or even edible.

Trees for the small arid garden

Both the Kapok and Lancewood are intriguing small trees with extraordinary character. They are more of a living sculpture than a shade tree, but are the perfect bizarre character to integrate with succulents such as Aloes, Agave, Aeoniums, Cotyledons and Yuccas.

Trees for the edible landscape

Fruit trees provide the best of both worlds, giving gardeners with small spaces both fruit and shade.

The Seville Orange is a tough, fast growing citrus for small gardens. Planted as an evergreen street tree in southern France and Spain, it provides glowing winter colour, exceptional spring fragrance and globes of orange fruit in winter.

The Persimmon, which is deciduous, is probably the most ornamental edible tree available, producing handsome orange fruit after its vibrant autumn foliage. With the development of dwarf root stocks and espalier pruning, apples and pears can also be kept small, allowing these fruit trees to be grown in the smallest spaces.

Don’t forget about climbing plants

Climbers are a great way to bring plants to small spaces and create living walls. These plants will pay their way many times over by reducing the need for both air conditioning in summer and heating in winter.

Pictured at right, Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is an indispensable climber for inner city gardens because it is self-clinging, without damaging the brick work beneath.

It is capable of climbing 2-3 stories without additional support, and thrives in low light conditions as well as full sun.

During spring it provides lush, green, maple-like leaves which turn a spectacular sequence of orange, yellow and red in autumn.

Why not plant a deciduous Grape vine or a vigorous Kiwi fruit?

Both will readily ascend a pergola or shade a major north or west window in summer, while allowing the winter sun to penetrate during the cooler months.


“Cultural Cringe” and our national garden identity

Clive Blazey explores nativism, garden-worthy trees and planting in different climate zones

Choosing plants and trees that will survive a warming climate

Clive Blazey discusses some of Diggers plant and tree selections

Cook’s ‘Gondwana’ Pine

Clive Blazey explains why it thrives in gardens of all sizes and in all mainland capital cities

Cook's Gondwana Pines fed the dinosaurs

Clive and Penny Blazey visit the Ile des Pins and explore epic forests of this ancient tree

Growing the world’s most expensive pine tree

Preserving a fossil, or setting gardeners up for failure?

Mountain Range farm and Dapto community farm

Lance Carr feeds refugees — body and soul

My best friends are trees

Clive Blazey tells how prodigious tree growth is dependent on fungal mycorrhizae in the soil

Taking responsibility for climate change by planting trees

How Jan and Michael successfully planted 20,000 trees in East Gippsland

The Bunya Pine: a tale as old as time

Marcelle Swanson shares her personal experience of growing up with a Bunya Pine

The National Arboretum of Doom

Peter Marshall, forester, truffle grower and expert on mycorrhizae gives his forthright view

Related Authors

Clive Blazey

Clive is the founder of The Diggers Club, a pioneer in the rescue of heirloom vegetable and fruit varieties and author of seven books on flower, vegetable and fruit gardening.

Related Magazine

Winter Garden 2017

Trees for a small garden plus truffles, roses, nuts and potatoes
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