When is enough, enough?


I can state with certainty that it’s possible to have too many trees in one garden. I don’t believe that I’ve quite reached that point (regardless of my wife’s thinking on this), but there are portions of the garden where one tree stretches to touch the next, and then the next. I don’t consider this to be a problem at all, except that there is no space to plant another Japanese maple, dogwood, or whatever else I might take a fancy to.Sweetheart tree

The most recent trees I’ve planted have been in containers, and not in the ground. The Dove (Davidia involucrata) and Korean Sweetheart (Euscaphis japonica, above) trees are still too small to make much impact in the garden, but mostly they haven’t been planted yet because I can’t figure an appropriate place to plant them. This will come, I’m certain, and too soon if snow, ice, and wind storms of recent years continue to plague the garden.Forest Pansy redbud

A few weeks ago, a ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, above) was crushed when a swamp maple from the neighboring forest crashed into it in an ice storm. The maple only brushed the house, but the redbud was snapped off near ground level. The year before, a Seven Son tree (Heptacodium miconioides, below) was lost in a wind storm, and before that various magnolias and dogwoods suffered in heavy winter snows.Seven Son Tree blooms

The Seven Son was replaced by a Red Horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea) after months of deliberation and second guessing, but the shaded spot occupied by the redbud will not be so easily filled. The two small trees in containers are more suited to planting in full sun, and in a pot I’m able to move them around as I please. At some point both will outgrow the containers, and then I’ll be forced to plug them in somewhere (if storms haven’t made the decision any easier).Trompenburg Japanese maple

And, here is the problem. There are twenty four varieties of Japanese maples (Acer palmatum, above and below) in the garden (and multiples of several), a dozen or so dogwoods, various redbuds, and so on, but I yearn for more. Too much area of the garden is shaded by the neighboring forest, or by the dozens of trees that I’ve planted. There are a few small open spaces between trees, but these will be filled as the maples and dogwoods grow. Two small areas of sunny lawn could be planted with trees, but one covers the septic, so it is inappropriate to plant over this unless I can figure some alternate method of disposing of sewage.Golden Full Moon Japanese maple in mid April

The swath of lawn in the lowest section of the garden is damp for much of the year, which would not prohibit planting the Dove, Sweetheart, or Japanese maples. But, the obstacle to overcome to further cut into this lawn space is my wife, who insists that some grass must be maintained. For what reason, I’m not certain, but there are certain sacrifices that must be made to insure a civil relationship, and I know that if I’m to avoid trouble I must be stealthy in carving out space for new trees.Oakleaf hydrangea in mid June

The ever expanding areas of shade are only a mild problem for the garden’s shrubs and perennials. Most woody shrubs are sturdy enough to fend for themselves, though the flowering of an Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia, above) is greatly diminished in heavier shade. On occasion, a smaller shrub or perennial must be relocated, but this is more likely to result from a shrub that has spread further than expected rather than the fault of shade from an overhanging tree.Celestial Shadow dogwood in early May

I feel quite certain that every enthusiastic gardener experiences occasional problems with plants that spread too far, but the inverse is that plants are spaced to allow for ten or twenty years of growth, with the result bare and unsatisfying. Ideally, there is a balance between over stuffing and under planting the garden, but as a garden matures it becomes evermore difficult to satisfy the gardener’s urge to plant one of anything that catches his eye.Gwen's Rose Delight Japanese maple in mid April

By preference, I’ve chosen to over plant my garden with trees rather than shrubs or perennials. I’m particularly smitten by Japanese maples, but I’ll look for a space for any tree that catches my attention. Except, now, there’s no space, so I must be satisfied with planting the few open areas remaining in the understory. It’s likely that I’ll be planting more hydrangeas, and probably a few more perennials that will work in this tree shaded garden.Lady in Red hydrangea in early June

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Beautiful! I think when you have no more room for anything!

    1. Dave says:

      On second thought, I’ve fibbed a bit. This year I carved out a bit of additional area from the thicket that borders the property (that is not mine, though no one will ever notice). Here, I planted two magnolias and a catalpa. If I could borrow a bulldozer for a few hours I could make room for plenty of new additions, but that might be a little too obvious that I’m into someone else’s land.

      1. Ha! My secret plan is to buy the neighbors house and expand, now where do I get the money? 🙂

  2. “Overplanting” is my middle name, but my obsession is with perennials and succulents, the wierder the better! 🙂
    From what you’ve posted over the years I’ve been following you, you’ve “overplanted” with a wonderful eye for cohesion and flow. I say keep doing what you’re doing….it looks great!

    1. Dave says:

      “Cohesion” is not my middle name. I think that the garden’s ponds and patios barely tie together the disparate plantings. I’m certain that there are far too many focal points for this to qualify as good design, but that’s never been my purpose. Landscape architects and designers disparage collectors’ gardens, but that’s what I have, with no complaint. I see superb perennial gardens in magazines and think for a moment, “why can’t I do that?”, but I’m content with what I have.

      1. What a wonderful way to put it: Collectors’ Gardens! That’s EXACTLY what you and I are creating.
        I just dug out another section of backyard to accomodate new spring plantings. The catalogs are trickling in and I keep seeing more and more “must haves.” 😉

  3. Chloris says:

    Yes but landscape architects often don’t know much about plants. I’ m on the side of the collectors every time. We all over plant but I think we make much more interesting pictures if we cram the plants in.

    1. Dave says:

      I don’t diminish the importance of form and function, but this is my sandbox.

      1. Chloris says:

        Absolutely and you get to arrange your toys exactly how and where you like.I love Forest Pansy by the way. It’s a gorgeous thing.

      2. Dave says:

        Though this old ‘Forest Pansy’ was toppled there is another at the low end of the garden. This one is in damp ground, and I wonder how it can survive, but other than a year when its top died, it’s fine. The upper dead branches were cut out, and you wouldn’t know they were ever there. I am curious to test the recently introduced ‘Merlot’ to see if it fades as badly as ‘Forest Pansy’ by mid summer.

  4. Carole Cambria Gertel says:

    Enough is enough is when there is zero space left to plant anything. I reached that point two years ago in a 23 year old garden. Now it’s a matter of space created by natural causes!

    1. Dave says:

      You have arrived at the same conclusion, but I refuse to give in until every inch of ground is covered. And then, vines can be planted to wind their way through sturdy shrubs. If the gardener is sufficiently committed, enough might not ever be enough.

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