Think Garden, Think Richard: Vertical Interest

Continuing my series of articles for 2019, Materials For A Purpose, I am going to be discussing how best to choose the right materials for your desired purpose and how they best fit into the design of a space.

This month I want to investigate products used for vertical interest in the garden.

Specimen trees are a great way to add vertical interest. I find it is always the planting that brings the garden to life. As our outdoor spaces seem to be shrinking due to the insatiable need to build more homes the green space in our gardens has never been so important. In a contemporary courtyard space, we designed and built, I used repeating Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Umbraculifera’ to give the garden drama and vertical interest. It is always important to match the right tree to the space. There is no point planting a large, broadleaf deciduous tree in your typical back garden, save this for a large country garden. I am a big fan of multi stemmed trees for back gardens. The advantage is as the name suggests they have multiple stems and as a result put energy into them all rather than the traditional single stem of a standard tree shape. I love to use Amelanchier lamarckii with its pretty spring blossom and autumn leaves or Prunus serrula with its gorgeous mahogany, smooth bark.

Sculptures are another good way to add vertical interest. For something old architectural salvage auctions can be a lot of fun and ebay can unearth some interesting items, but for something more contemporary there’s a plethora online. I love a pair of bronze boxing hares in a wild flower meadow. Remember, that height is important, especially if you want the sculpture to have presence within planting. Stand-alone items on plinths are a different matter but again it is hard to know how it will look until placed. I advise using a bamboo cane cut to the height of the item you are considering, placed in the ground at the proposed spot. This helps with visualising and is much easier to move around. I have used driftwood pieces within planting to good effect to create a natural, rustic feeling in a garden I built in Cambridge. It was used through the planting and around the pond to disguise the liner. Large tree roots upturned and placed in the border can work really well in a woodland themed planting arrangement.

Pergolas are a classic way to add vertical interest and provide shade too. They come in all shapes and sizes but essentially the structure consists of upright legs and horizontal cross sections elevated to provide a framework. Garden centres are full of pergola kits. These can be a cost-effective way to gain vertical interest so long as the quality of the timber is good. I have made many bespoke pergolas for clients to fit into my designs. We made a contemporary, chunky green oak pergola over an outdoor dining room that added a real statement vertical feature. Corteen Steel ages nicely with a rusty burnt orange colour and has been used in many show gardens, I have also seen scaffold poles and burnt sleepers used to great effect in urban, municipal design that looks great. Strained wires can work really well to give a more open airy feel to the roof of a structure.

Climbers are the most popular form of vertical interest used by the garden designer. They come in all manner of forms from Clematis, Hydrangea and Jasmin to name just a few. The great thing about a trained climber is that the space they take up is usually on the fence and unlike a shrub they do not encroach into the useable garden space. I have lost count of the number of small gardens I have been to over the years to see large shrubs growing from both boundaries into the middle of the small garden. The advice is always the same. Remove the thuggish shrubbery and plant appropriate plants such as climbers and well behaved shrubs.

For more in depth advice or garden design help please get in touch to arrange a consultation.