Xanthe’s Seasonal Writing

Award winning landscape designer and author, Xanthe White, has been Daltons brand ambassador for over ten years. She has plenty of gardening experience and knowledge to impart to home gardeners and professionals alike. Here Xanthe shares her passion for gardening, along with tips, advice and gardening secrets even the most weathered gardener may not know.

Tree talk

It’s been a summer of false starts and roundabouts in the garden this year and I’m barely ready to think about another season creeping into sight. To be honest I’m really only just getting used to the summer heat. But I know it will all start to fade away before we know it. I can see the colours changing already. The gardens are starting to look tired and dry and the ground is splitting apart as the water table sinks lower. I’ve noticed too the night slowly creeping closer to the day. 

When I started gardening more than twenty years ago, I, like most young things could simply not imagine how tall a tree would grow in a lifetime. I was impatient to see what might happen in a year and eager for instant gratification. Now I look at trees differently. As the pressure for housing, views and sun increases more and more, trees are disappearing from the Auckland city skyline. I think a lot more carefully about the trees I plant and also the plan of how they should be looked after. 

A Size That Fits

Where possible in a suburban setting, select smaller trees that are more likely to stand the test of time. Native tree ferns and nikaus are great because they are slender and fit into tight spaces. Puka also fit well in the suburban garden. If you are after fruit, there is such a wonderful selection of varieties these days that can fit into almost any sized gap you can imagine. For instance, the ballerina apples grow on slender poles flowering and fruiting all around the main stem. This is both beautiful and space efficient. If sun is a challenge, consider deciduous trees such as forest pansy or Japanese maples. While people complain about leaf drop, I always like to remind them that evergreen trees tend to drop leaves slowly all year round while deciduous trees make it a once a year job. We all want privacy and shade in the summer but in the winter, more light is most desirable and deciduous trees are very obliging in this way! 

Prune Hard

Kiwis are not very good at pruning trees. We tend to fall into two categories; those that like to cut them all down right to the ground, and those who like to hug them, even when it means living in a shadow. I think especially in a suburban environment where most of us live, we need to get into more of a routine of keeping our trees in good shape so they last the distance. Most trees, if kept well and are pruned from a young age, are able to be manipulated to a height that suits the garden. It’s only when they are left to grow unhindered that they become big problems. My own garden is no exception and I’m ready to give my trees a hard Autumn prune this year. Remember pruning is like a haircut, there are lots of ways to do it. The best approach is to decide what you want your tree to end up looking like, and then work out whether an all-over trim will work best or whether you need to thin out the branches to keep the height for privacy, but let light through. 

Throughout my travels around the world I’ve come across all sorts of different techniques. Cloud trees in Japan look like works of art, but they are designed to be mini landscapes creating views between houses. They can be shaped to create a green form where ever you like. I think its time we all started getting a bit more creative with the shapes we make trees in to! Keep in mind though a balanced tree is more stable in a storm so don't get too carried away. 

Wood is Precious

Just like all of us, sometimes a tree just has to go, but be open minded about what use it can be put to. I have seen some beautiful trees put to good use at the timber mill and used to create furniture or cabinetry. If you have a nice tree, do consider milling the wood as its often very valuable timber if you have a cause to put it to.

The season has just turned but you have a few more months to get the work done so take some time to think about what works best for you and then chop wisely!

Best wishes,