In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
September, 2007
Regional Report

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This lovely bur oak trunk is as beautiful as any picture framed by the window.

Tree Trunks Make Lovely Gardens

I had one of those interesting revelations recently in which I slapped my head and said, "Why didn't I think of that earlier?" We spent an entire weekend removing a host of small shrubs we had allowed to grow in our oak and hickory beds. As we let the shrubs get started, it seemed a good idea to let them fill in like an understory. But we let it get out of hand.

What we realized as we were removing them was that by letting this sea of foliage engulf the strong trunks, we lost the trunks as garden elements. We still had the canopy, but the eye went to the shrubby plants at eye level. Those huge strong trunks are an amazing design element in the landscape yet we had allowed them to be covered up.

Tree Trunks as Design Features
As gardeners we tend to think of beautiful flowers and foliage as we plan and add to our gardens. But tree trunks are valuable design elements, too. These tend to ground a garden by connecting the canopy with the ground layer.

Tree trunks allow us to see through a garden and direct our vision onward to a distant view or sunny copse in the distance. They will define a space without actually closing it in. Think of how a collection of trees with high canopies can actually make a garden room. Those tall trunks can act as a wall without giving a claustrophobic feeling.

Tree trunks not only reinforce vertical structures, they also can be used as background for a flower border or to frame a house. We can also use the shadows they cast as important design elements.

Living Sculptures
We think of trees in terms of roots, trunks, and branches, and an effective garden design should address how each of these pieces contributes to the line, form, and texture of the landscape. A single tree trunk can be an amazing focal point. A grouping of single trunks, or a multi-stemmed tree with all its trunks arising from a single point are living sculptures.

Winter reveals textures and forms not seen when the trees are clothed with foliage. Silhouettes in fall and winter are entirely different than in spring and summer, simply because of the angle of light.

Bark Color as a Design Element
Bark color is another design feature to use artistically. The heavy, brooding black-gray bark of a bur oak will give an entirely different flair to a garden than the light-hearted, curling, cinnamon-pink bark of a river birch. The clean smooth white of a Whitespire birch gives a different emotional response than the rich, shiny, purple-black bark of a Japanese lilac.

However you choose to use them, don't forget the drama that tree trunks can add to your landscape.


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