Foundation Planting

The idea behind foundation planting is that it is more or less permanent and so provides a framework or foundation around which, if desired, other more temporary schemes can be organized. It consists in the main of trees and shrubs.

Foundation planting deserves careful consideration, for it will give character to the garden for many years to come. It involves some effort of imagination for many of the plants that are used will gain steadily in size during the years and will end up looking very different from their appearance when planted. Sometimes growth can be restricted by pruning, though with trees there is a danger that pruning may destroy their natural beauty. Some trees and shrubs should be regarded as expendable, to be removed after 10 or 15 years’ growth, either to make more room for their neighbours, or to be replaced by young plants which will repeat the process all over again.

In foundation planting, thought should be given to the appearance of each plant throughout the year. If it is deciduous it will look quite different in winter, when its branches and stems are bare, than in summer, when they are covered with leaves. This can be a positive advantage, giving a changing appearance to the garden which prevents it from becoming too boring.

Evergreens tend to be more conspicuous in winter than in summer because they then appear as solid objects among the open tracery of bare stems of deciduous trees and shrubs. The clever designer will make use of this, placing evergreens so that they make one pattern in summer in association with the leaves of deciduous plants and quite another pattern in winter when they are practically the only leafy objects in the garden.

Some trees and shrubs are so spectacular when in flower that one is inclined to forget what they look like at other times. Rhodo-dendrons are a striking example of this for many of them are rather uninteresting in shape and leaf, more or less rounded bushes covered with fairly large dark green leaves. A rhododendron border can be the most spectacular thing in May and June and as dull as a Victorian laurel shrubbery for the rest of the year. Shrubs and trees which are only beautiful when in flower must be used with discretion and should be associated with other shrubs and trees that have beauty of leaf shape and colour of general form.

The Time Scale and Plant Growth

Gardeners continually ask ‘How big will it grow?’ With many shrubs and trees it is diflicult to give a helpful answer for two reasons. First, ultimate size may well be determined by the character of the soil and situation. Second, it may be many years before the shrub or tree reaches this ultimate size and quite likely the questioner will not be thinking anything like so far ahead. Often it is what the plant is going to look like in five or ten years’ time that really matters and it is information of this order, rather than what it will look like after 40 or 50 years, that I have tried to give in the following notes.


A good many shrubs and a few trees make new growths direct from the roots and sometimes several feet away from the main plant. These growths are known as ‘suckers’ and, if left, will grow into full-scale bushes or trees of their own so that, in time, what started as one plant will become a thicket. This may or may not be desirable and if the suckers are likely to be a nuisance or spoil the symmetry of the plant they should be removed. If they are dug up with roots attached they can be planted elsewhere to grow on into new plants.

However, all this applies only when the shrub or tree is on its own roots, i.e. has been grown from a seed, cutting or division. If it has been grafted or budded on to a different rootstock (and this is a common nursery practice with cherries, apples, lilacs. Rhododendrons and some other trees and shrubs) then suckers will reproduce the characters of the rootstock and not of the garden variety joined to it. Such suckers are seldom of any value and should be destroyed.

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