Garden Design – Garden Wind
Incorporating innovative garden design ideas to protect from damaging garden wind.
Wind can wreak havoc in a garden, and not simply because it can knock down trees. Garden wind can prove to be the main bug-bear of many gardeners, making their gardening exploits something of a misery. If your garden suffers from high winds we have some practical tips that can serve to mitigate its worse effects.
It is heart-breaking for the gardener to wake up after a stormy night and find his prized specimen tree lying horizontal across the lawn! While I can’t offer any help against tornadoes and the like, there is still a lot the gardener can do to reduce its strength for most of the time. Careful consideration of garden wind at the outset of any garden design, will allow the adventurous gardener to grow a wider variety of plants than he would otherwise grow.
Mike Gilmore’s Winsford walled garden is located on a hilly ridge and suffered terribly from the prevailing westerly winds that would sweep inside the gardens and then swirl around inside the walls like tornadoes with devastating effect! We not only had to contend with this novel effect but with a brand new garden as there were no established plants to provide any protection. While the hardier shrubs could be planted and left to fend for themselves, we were also keen to start growing semi-tender shrubs.
Avoiding planting in straight lines
Straight lines, whether they are paths or plantings, or both simply enable the wind speed to escalate. In sharp contrast, winding paths form very natural-looking windbreaks and are more enjoyable to walk along!
If you do put up a fence of any kind, remember that a straight fence is the most likely to blow down. Try instead, to put ‘indents’ along the fence line, these will help brace it and make it more interesting and attractive.
Escallonias make great windbreaks!
Escallonias are very hardy fast-growing shrubs and during the early years establishing the gardens we used them to screen other less hardy shrub plantings. We used them to form small protective islands of plantings. Gradually the islands were increased until they joined up. After about five years, our preferred plantings were strong enough and had enough protective neighbours to enable us to remove the escallonias and substitute them for more desirable plants.
The top photo highlights a unique solution we found to combat high garden wind. Frost fleece was used to cover bamboo poles as a protective ‘teepee’ for semi-tender shrubs during their early years as they struggled to establish themselves. The tents also had the added advantage of sloughing off excessive rain which helped towards keeping young tender roots drier in winter than they might otherwise have been.
Another technique we used was to build a protective raised-earth berm or earthworks that rose as high as 4ft on the one side. The berm provided instant height and protection in our new garden. It also became the base for our conifer screen adjacent to the car park. Within a surprisingly short time the conifer screen became a very useful across the garden which prevented those destructive ‘tornadoes’ inside the walls. It also looked good!
Plant in layers to filter the wind
Windswept areas can be difficult for gardening, but the trick in any such situation is to plant in layers and not to attempt to plant everything at once before the outer areas are strong enough and able to protect the more tender plants behind them.
In extreme cases, you can choose almost any conifer, especially pines which will suffer high winds. But most gardeners don’t have space to grow them. People want something smaller and a little more adventurous, more attractive, that won’t take over the skyline and yet still stays put to protect their more tender plants. The plant groups in the table below are worthy of further examination. I’m sure you will find what you seek amongst these plant groups
These plant groups are worth further examination to find exactly what you are seek for your garden wind conditions.
Ornamental evergreen varieties such as Pittosporum, are not so slim as their coniferous cousins, and can readily become victim to sudden high gusts and suffer a knock down if hit before they establish themselves, so a helpful restraint will reduce root disturbance at ground level during their early years. Though they originate from New Zealand, Pittosporums are surprisingly resilient, and it is sometimes possible to right the tree, restrain it with a steel wire for a year or two, and the tree will continue as if nothing had happened. (Don’t forget that in New Zealand they get fierce southerly winds from the Antarctic)!!
Depending upon how open and how large your property may be, will determine just how tall your first line of defence should be. The list above begins with the largest and most gale tolerant first, your tallest plant can be whatever suits your situation. The list is roughly divided by size, gradually working down through large shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen, which can provide good colour. It is necessarily a short list designed as it is to provide the protective wall planting that your garden may need to protect itself from the drying effect of high winds. By the time a windswept garden is successfully growing decent sized Berberis, Elaegnus, Escallonia and Viburnum for example, say around about 5-6fthigh, the wind problem should be under control (as much as it ever will be), and you ought to be able to grow the plants you want within the protective ring. Allow about 4 years for the shrub-sized plants to establish themselves in most cases.
Pinus – any of the pines will offer the best first layer of defence for large properties. Their open growth will break and dissipate high winds without too big a risk of being blown down themselves.
Ericas are tough ground-cover plants that will stand gales. Most UK gardeners mistakenly believe their natural home is ‘north of the border’, but Scotland is home to only about FOUR native species I believe. The real home for heathers is South Africa with over FOUR HUNDRED native species!
Avoid the temptation of ‘specimen plants’
Mike Gilmore advises against spending extra for larger specimen trees from garden centres. Such plants have invariably had their roots constrained in a relatively small space for too long, small roots have become tree-like and set in their ways and very difficult to straighten out – so they don’t spread their hold in the ground despite your best efforts. Plus! They are bigger trees, taller, with lots of foliage, meaning they are like sails in a tall yacht without a keel.
In his experience, a smaller plant will usually pass a larger specimen plant after about five years. The reason being the smaller plant’s roots get established within a season, whilst those of the larger plants can take several years!
Beware sharp unseasonal garden winds
Over a weekend, desperately unseasonal cold winds can appear out of nowhere that can literally ‘freeze dry’ newly emerging leaves or blossom leaving the tips looking scorched and disfigured.which look scorched and disfigured. If you do notice such biting cold winds, it really is worth your while going outside for twenty minutes to wrap your favourite shrub with frost fleece. It can make all the difference. The alternative can be that your prized shrub suffers up to 3″ of die-back on all the windward branches, lose all its leaf buds and look ‘disappointing’ for the remainder of the growing season.
Finally, winds can bend trees to shape over a period of time and these are great indicators of the prevailing wind direction in your area.