Planting your own entranceway

Add drama to an entranceway with planning and care.

I’ve been advocating mass planting lately – mainly because it’s a great way for an impatient gardener to get a speedy result. Sadly, it doesn’t work quite so well with trees. Planting a whole lot of the same kind of tree in close proximity is risky. There are really only three possible outcomes: whatever you’ve planted is hugely successful and you spend the rest of your life watering, fertilising, thinning and cutting back; it’s a complete failure and you spend the rest of your life digging out and replanting until something works; or you have a mixed result and spend the rest of your life replacing the failures.

This is what has always put me off planting an avenue. I’d love to have a row of trees leading down our rather long driveway to the house because you can create different effects with it, but fear of failure has kept me from doing it – until now. An avenue, according to a cutesy garden magazine I picked up, should be “an oasis of shade and shelter that leads to the heart of your domain”.

It didn’t mention anything about the depressions that bad drainage has caused, or the tangle of hideous bright green hoses that always seems to lie across the driveway, or random wheelbarrows, spades, chainsaws and black plastic bags of rotting leaves that proliferate along the way. The idea is to create planting that will broaden and/or lengthen the view, to attract the eye from side to side, and to create the illusion of a roof between you and the sky. This is what differentiates an avenue from a border or a hedge.

Next, the trees should frame the view of the house, creating an attractive vista and disguise any unappealing elements along the way – such as a garden shed, ride-on mower under a bright blue tarpaulin, or piles of building rubbish. Unfortunately, an avenue demands that all the plants be the same – which is a major effort in self-discipline – but this is an avenue, not a hedge, so they don’t have to create an absolutely uniform barrier characterised by perfect angles and symmetry.

Nonetheless, the species needs to be selected with care so you get reliability and the right habit. An upright, vase-shaped habit with ascending main branches is typical. Weeping or spreading trees, lovely though they are, do not make an easy avenue. They will undoubtedly spread out on to the driveway rather than the other way and impede anything  taller than a very low-slung car.

When choosing your trees, don’t just think about the flowers and the foliage. The trunks are probably what you’ll see most of, so colour and texture should be considered. Straight, well-behaved trunks give a sense of order and rhythm along a long driveway, but twisted trunks have a special charm too. If you find yourself hating the trunks, you’ll have to plant lower growing shrubs at the base, and risk losing the sense of an avenue.

To avoid the “complete failure” or “mixed result” syndrome, plant trees that will enjoy your climate and grow reasonably quickly. Nothing is more discouraging than spending a heap of hard-earned cash on 20 avenue trees and then discovering they only grow 20cm a year. You may want to grow a traditional avenue of oak, acer or poplar. If you want to be a little more adventurous, choose ornamental pears, olives, palms or magnolias.

The idea is to grow something you like and maintain the avenue look by spacing your trees evenly, keeping them in a straight line. One more thing – three trees does not an avenue make. If the approach to your house is short, a pair of specimen trees on either side of the drive might just be the ticket.

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