I try to always use trees and shrubs that contribute a combination of good leaf colour and bark so you get a plant of year round interest and I always use this immediate back garden area to demonstrate to visitors how colour and interest can be achieved without a slavish devotion to flowering shrubs etc.
I do admire nice flowering shrubs such as magnolia or rhodoendrom but generally I am not a great lover of flowers or flowering plants as I find the return disappointing as you normally get only three weeks in flower and then you are stuck with this drab looking plant for the rest of the summer .. there are exceptions of course and then there are plants that are so spectacular in flower however fleeting that they are worth their place in the garden not that I have any of them ! For me a plant has to perform for nine months and for that flowering takes second place .. I have a gardening friend who rings and says come over quickly so and so is in bloom and by the time you get there the thing has either been knocked over by the wind or the rain and is disappointing … not for me and give me interesting leaf and bark colour any day !
Likewise I don’t invest in trees or shrubs that are sold mainly for autumnal colours as again you have to live with a drab tree for eight monthswiating for that magical burst of leaf colour in November when the weather may be too bad to go out to admire it anyway . … if a tree or shrub has great autumnal colour well that’s a bonus for me but it is not my primary reason in selecting a tree .
The other principle I garden with is right plant right place and while you will get away with a certain amount of breaking the rules … generally never try and squeeze a plant into a location ( windy , dark etc.) or type of soil ( too dry, wet or boggy ) that it doesen’t like as it will be unhappy , won’t thrive and ultimately will die on you .
Generally if a plant hasen’t thrived or put on growth after a year in its position I dig it out and move it to another location as my experience has been that the tree or shrub will soldier on for a few years , looking miserable and then give up . Sometimes inexplicably moving a plant even a short space of a metre will do the trick and the plant will take off.
Now having said that I don’t bother with flowering plants , I do admire them in other people’s garden and the work that goes in to their maintenance , the weeding and hard work that goes into maintaining beds of perennials etc. I would love to have the type of soil to grow perennials , nice crumbly soil but I have had two gardens in my life , Clonmel and Rosslare and in both I have had poor quality wet ground where it was like cutting turf when planting but you get on with what you have and my natural preference has from the beginning been foliage plants planted in a naturalistic style .
My top five trees or shrubs for impact over a long period would be the Silver Birch jaquemontii , Black Elder ( Sambucus nigra ) , Red Dogwood ( cornus elegantissimus ) , Rhus Cotinus Grace and Melianthus Major . I have left out the gorgeous Japanese Maple Acer Griseum ( paper bark maple ) as I have had no luck growing it on our heavy soil .
My gardening style here is also governed by the fact that the garden is visited regularly by deer from the mountain particularly in the lower fields away from the house and I often come across up to five young doe at a time grazing away and unfortunately at various times of the year they eat away at trees particularly young trees which has limited me in that I no longer plant specimen trees in those areas … and you never know what they will eat as I have had trees they have left alone for years and you think you have got away with it and then come out some morning and the tree is eaten down to a stump .
Deer apart from looking like bambi when young never just eat the leaves which I wouldn’t mind but they can attack the base of a young tree and strip away the bark ( for the sugar content in the sap ) and the tree dies . The problem here is that the garden has been a wilderness for centuries and the deer roam over it as part of their natural habitat and I do love to see them when I walk around but I wish they would go somewhere else for their take aways !
Sometimes they get very brazen and I have seen them outside the back window and I gather they regard me as a pussy cat with my ineffectual shouting shoo , shoo !