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Adding Value To your Living and Working Experience



If you want to be remembered, build in stone, write a book or plant a tree!

For all my primary school years, we only had two head teachers. But I knew of a third, who had left long before I was born. The giant gum trees that ringed the school were his legacy. Whether there were others before or immediately after him, I do not know. But he is the only one whom I had never met but remember because his name was repeatedly mentioned in relations to the trees. He planted a tree!

The best time to plant a tree was yesterday. The next best opportunity is today. The golden rule with trees is to plant them small and soon.

As the largest and most prominent of all garden plants, trees establish the basic, long term frame work of the garden. They are slow but cheap and easy to establish.  If you change your mind about a particular tree, you can always chop it down. A decades old tree can be felled in a couple of minutes.


Given their unique forms, flower and foliage colour, trees influence the selection of other plants in the garden. For instance if you cant do without the  hot flushes of the    Nandi flame, its likely that you will pick other plants whose colours temper  it down. Similarly the showy foliage of the candlenut tree (Aurea molluca )can be a determining factor as to what other plants to use.

Trees occur in almost every region of the world. As such, ample varieties exist to suit any garden site on earth.

What are trees?

Trees can broadly be defined as long-lived woody perennial plants. They can be deciduous or evergreen usually with a single stem although some do have 2 or 3 stems. Trees differ from shrubs in that while shrubs have many stems that branch from below or near the ground, most trees will have one stem. Trees vary in sizes, from cultivars of 1m to tall trees of 90m high.

Most trees are flowering and bear their seeds in an ovary, a protective chamber that that forms part of the fruit when seeds ripen. This group is known as Angiosperms. Some trees like Conifers produce seed that is partially covered by tissues from the parent plant. These are Gymnosperms.  In other words the former have their seeds covered while the latter have naked seeds.

Tree Shapes and Sizes

Tree shapes vary greatly. We have   spreading, conical , columnar or rounded trees.  Weeping trees appear graceful, whereas   tall narrow trees give a formal appearance. For a relaxed informal setting, the trees to plant would  ideally be open and spreading.  The cypress family will give you strong and sculptural trees.

But it is one thing to like a tree, and quite another to know if it is the right tree for your space. It pays to note which tree types grow well in your neighbourhood. Clay soils, dry sand and stony soils all have suitable species. Most trees will grow in average soil, but a coastal tree grown in a highland area will struggle to survive. This explains the pitiful shape of Ashoka trees that dot Nairobi gardens while in Mombasa they are spectacularly huge.

In choosing trees take note of its size at maturity and growth habits. A rubber tree will overwhelm a small garden and its root system will cause trouble to nearby plants. Yet in another space it would great and help hold the soil.

Ornamental features of trees

Many trees have attractive flowers with a wide range in colour.  A gardener looking for flowering trees will be spoilt for choice from the small clustered blooms  to large single flowers .

Trees leaves are also a major ornament. Tree leaf colour occurs in  green, yellow, purple and various hues and when used properly can complement other plants in the garden. For texture, tree leaves can be glossy, wooly or hairy which creates further   interest in the garden.

Using trees in your garden

An important use of trees in the garden is for wind breaking or as sound barriers. On more than one occasion, I have visited places where winds were strong enough as to interfere with outdoor conversation. In urban settings, traffic noise can be a major nuisance. In both cases, mass planting of windbreakers or sound barrier species will be a priority.

In most gardens trees are grown as specimen plants, standing out in the lawn or under planted with groundcovers. For year round effect, have different types that keep coming into season at different times showing off arresting flower colour or decorative foliage.

You can also use trees to frame or screen out a view. While you cannot control what your neighbor does on their balcony, you can ensure yourself some privacy by screening your property with trees. Some trees are especially good for your                                                                                                                                                                                   farm. Agroforestry trees add nutrients to the soil and provide fodder for livestock.

For wildlife gardening enthusiasts trees are a sure bet to attract birds, bees, butterflies ,squirrels and other small animals that hang around  them.

 Planting your trees

There are a few unbreakable rules about planting trees. First the planting hole must be wider than the root ball. Most tree roots grow at 60 degrees, so you are better of with a wider whole than necessarily a very deep hole. Dig a hole 2-4 times wide than the rootball and 1 and half times as deep. Add organic matter to the base. Nail the stake off –centre . Plant the tree, backfilling with soil and organic matter. Always ensure the level at which the soil was in the planting bag is the same level at planting. If you plant shallowly you risk exposing the roots and your tree will be constantly required watering. If you plant too deep, the buried part of the stem may start rotting under the soil.

Firm up the tree with your foot to remove air bubbles so that the tree won’t lean sideways after watering. Secure the tree to the stake and mulch if you can. Water newly planted trees regularly but not everyday, until they are established.

Site your trees away from utilities like pipes, power lines, drains, walls and buildings as the roots or branches can cause damages.

 Given good soil and the right climate, your trees can live for decades, some even for centuries.

And you will be remembered!










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