Can’t see the wood for the trees.

In order to limit our landscaping costs and because we like gardening, we are planning and planting the trees and plants ourselves.  The garden is a long way off but already we’ve been keeping an eye out for suitable trees.  I’ve been scouring Houzz for good looking gardens by West Australian landscape companies.  Houzz is very useful because the landscape companies often give details about the products and plants that they use.

Fully labelled photo - scroll over tags in "Houzz" to see the name of each plant or product.  Landscape design by Secret Gardens, photo via Houzz.

Fully labelled photo – scroll over tags in “Houzz” to see the name of each plant or product. Landscape design by Secret Gardens, photo via Houzz.

Surprisingly, recent real-life inspiration came from Parliament House in Canberra.    The landscaping there is beautiful.  Orderly without being stark. There is a distinct colour scheme of grey and green.  The outstanding feature is a grove of birch trees.

A courtyard at Parliament House, Canberra.  Photo courtesy of Swah from Swah Love.

A courtyard at Parliament House, Canberra. Photo courtesy of Swah from Love Swah.

There are 5 or 6 areas of our landscape that require trees.  I’ve created a shortlist for each area after researching the following local resources:

Let’s start at the back (canal-side).

Trees for the canal side.

Trees for the canal side of our block.  Landscape design by Tim Davies Landscaping.

We need one feature tree, a row of 3 narrow trees and a poolside row of pleached trees.

1.  The feature tree needs to:

  • shade the outdoor lounge area from the Western sun.
  • tolerate coastal conditions including wind (and sandy soil?).
  • be beautiful.
  • have roots that are containable to a small area (pool and pavers are nearby).

    This picture is fairly close to our landscaping plans.  Upright fencing, pool.  Not much shade going on here.

    This picture is fairly close to our landscaping plans. Upright fencing, decking and pool. But, we need more shade.  Source:  William Dangar and Associates, via Flickr.

Here’s my shortlist:

  • Frangipani (Plumeria).  Shortfalls might include inadequate shade and wind intolerance.
  • Magnolia Kay Parris.  Might need wind protection.
  • Chinese Tallow.  Due to invasive roots, I think it would need to remain potted.  The leaf drop in the pool may be yuck.
  • Olive.   Not quite in the beautiful category when planted in isolation.

(Picture sources:  1 & 4.  Arbor West Tree Farm.  2.  Ellenby Tree Farm.  3. Cultivart Landscape Design, via Houzz.)

I don’t think I’ve found the perfect feature tree, so let me know if you have a suggestion.  (No palms.)

2.  Row of 3 trees needs to be:

  • Light on foliage, to keep the view.
  • Narrow.
  • Tolerant to coastal conditions.


  • Ornamental pear. (Might need wind protection)
  • Silver birch. (May grow too large.)
  • Evergreen ash.  (Could block the view.)
  • Chinese tallow. (Their roots make me nervous….)
  • Olive.
  • Banksia Integrifolia (pictured at the top of the post in the Houzz photo).

Picture sources: 1. C.O.S. Design via Houzz.  2.  Swan Architecture via Houzz.  3. Abor West Tree Farm.  4.  Tim Davies Landscaping.

3.  Pleached row of trees along poolside wall needs to be:

  • trainable.
  • not too messy (evergreen).

How about?:

  • Evergreen ash.
  • Designer ash” (Fraxinus excelsior “Nana”).
  • Weeping Lilly Pilly.

Picture sources: 1.  Tim Davies Landscaping  2.  Flemings  3. Swell Homes

Now to the front – here it is simpler.  North facing, more protected from wind and with more room to grow.

1.  Feature tree near front entry.  I think we’ll match the feature tree from the back, whatever that might be.

2.  Orchard around front yard perimeter:  This one is easy – olives and citrus trees, maybe a bay tree to complete the cook’s garden.  We’ve had olives and lemons in Mandurah before and they grew like wildfire.

Picture sources:  Olives – Charlotte Rowe, Bay tree – Penny Woodward,  Lemon and limes – Abor West Tree Farm.

Midway through my list making, my husband asked whether I could really mix native trees with non-natives and still keep to a single landscape style.  Despite the fact that he was only voicing what I had been wondering, I was annoyed that he was adding to my tree dilemmas!  Further web trawling has given me the confidence that mixing trees and plants  can be done well.  (The top picture is a good example.)  So my answer is now, yes!

The subject of trees certainly opened up a can of worms.  I’m not sure that I’ve concluded anything yet, but hopefully this post will encourage some advice from green-thumbed readers, particularly those in the same climate as House By The Water.  At the very least, I now have some short lists to take to the tree farms or local nurseries to seek further advice.



21 thoughts on “Can’t see the wood for the trees.

  1. Kaye says:

    Technically the only tree that foots the bill is………. Plastic ….UV resistant of course..
    (Ian’s suggestion). X

  2. Birch will struggle in a hot dry climate like Perth. In Adelaide they do OK for a few years but eventually fail to thrive unless heavily watered. Being near the sea, blown salt spray will also trouble them.

    For your location, I would avoid them and similar cool climate trees.

      • I think there is a good reason why so many native trees and shrubs are used in coastal Mandurah! While I live in Adelaide, my brother lives in Mandurah and I in fact cruised the canals only last July. So I have a fair idea of your site’s likely micro-climate. I would also suspect the soil on the blocks which probably came from the canal diggings is rather salt laden, so I would also tend to avoid anything salt intolerant if I was planting out a garden there, otherwise root burn might cause disappointment. Claret ashes are an exotic that seem to cope with a bit of salt – I have seen one grown up from a sapling in country SA where the summer watering was from rather poor quality bore water.

  3. These are the tree ideas that came to mind for me:
    Grevillea (research WA grevilleas and which ones are tree-sized – some have nice, ferny foliage and they flower well)
    Banksia (see above, also good for coastal conditions)
    Figs, for the orchard

    I’m no landscape architect, but it seems like natives mix with other plants just fine, particularly with mediterranean plants like olives that handle a similar climate.

    • Thank you Steph. Good suggestions – see what I mean about a can of worms? I think there will be a few more rounds of tree decision making before I am through. I love figs, but I’ve had my heart broken by a fig before so any future figs might have to stay in pots. (Beautiful big, old fig made neighbour and his driveway unhappy…)

  4. trixee says:

    So much to think about! I’ve spent a good time on pinterest pinning various plants but am no closer to making any decisions either.

  5. Best stress free shade will be provided by a market umbrella ( custom made of course).
    Can plant small bay leaf seedling or two, ready to go in garden when you are ready. And you can always mix natives and fruit trees with normal plants, why not?

  6. Advanced tree nursery another place to add to your list – it is in the same area as Arborwest and Ellenby
    We are in avery similar situation with our block being100mtrs from the coast.
    I will be mixing natives, citrus and non natives and hope to plant advanced trees as I am too impatient and want that instant garden.
    I have been looking at crimson spire as they are quite narrow and have a nice foliage. I also like the cottonwood (native hibiscus) which has a lovely purple leaf and yellow flower and very hardy. Waldecks at Kingsley has a great example of it as a feature tree. I am worried it may get a bit big though. Also like bottlebrush which are bird attracting and very hardy and can be pruned to standard or pleached I think.
    Good luck I look forward to seeing how you go.

      • I know the feeling – it all starts to add up very quickly.
        Another place well worgh looking at is Landsdale Plants. They are very well priced. They don’t carry a huge range but if they haave what you are looking for you will normally pay a lot less. Unfortunately most of the nurseries are quite a distance from you.
        Both Arborwest and Ellenby will help with choice of trees so it might be worth contacting them.
        I have spent hours looking at different books and web sites and you would think I would have the best landscaping plan and know exactly what I wanted to plant but have found it quite overwhelming.
        We are looking at very similar trees for landscaping so I will keep in touch.

  7. I have no useful tips to add (I am clueless about trees) but am just starting to think about landscaping so your post and these comments are great info for me – thank you! The City of Stirling have told us they’re planting an ornamental pear (Bradford) on our verge this winter, which I’m looking forward to as I love the sound of the orange leaves in the autumn. I love Jacarandas too and am also very impatient and want instant trees, but have to be careful we don’t annoy our neighbours as I want to avoid similar heartbreaks to your fig tree fiasco. We’re also hoping to reduce the landscaping fees by doing a fair bit of DIY, but time will tell if that’s a crazy shortsighted mistake!

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