Often, at our garden center, I speak to customers about the right plant for the right place. Having been in retail for almost three decades, I can say that many times customers are driven by price first and design second. It’s as though customers would rather buy a big tree that is less expensive than a smaller tree that is more appropriate for its surroundings. Equating, in their minds, that size and price go hand in hand with plant material… it doesn’t always! Fastigiate plants are those that have their branches erect and closer together. Almost parallel branches tapering towards the top gives you the impression of a tree that is more columnar in appearance. Important to note that if you ever see the word ‘Fastigiate (a)’ in the Latin order of genus, species and cultivar, it does not always mean that it will stay in a tight column. It simply means that it is narrower than the species typically gets.
Everyone has heard of Arborvitae! A tree that can grow 60 feet tall and 30 feet wide has a cultivar called ‘Emerald Green’ or ‘Smaragd’. ‘Emerald Green’ grows 15 feet all and 4 feet wide with lustrous green foliage and vertical sprays. This tree, widely grown and used, has excellent heat tolerance but little deer resistance. Norway Spruce, Picea abies, is a tree that grows north of 75 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It too has a cultivar that is more ‘Fastigiate’ in nature. Picea abies ‘Cupressina’ is a more narrow form with bluish-green needles. This tree grows 30 feet high and only 4-6 feet wide. Found in the Thuringian Forest in Germany before 1904, this evergreen tree is useful in groupings, as a windbreak and works nicely to help soften fence lines. All this plus deer resistance is offered on a low maintenance tree.
For those looking to solve almost any problem in your garden including a plant that will do well in a container, other than the pedestrian Alberta Spruce, I give you a Japanese Plum Yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’. Plum Yews have been known to do well in sun or shade, wet or dry, sandy or clay. An evergreen that is deer resistant could be used to hide air conditioning units, soften a fence line or prove useful as a single architectural element. A rotund column, this plant can reach 10 feet high and 4-8 feet wide.
My favorite Oak tree is Pin Oak! Perhaps because it takes me back to a class I had with “Doc” Hamilton at Rutgers University and his quip about an interesting dance. Quercus palustris ‘Green Pillar’ is a columnar form introduced by Princeton Nurseries. Extremely glossy, green foliage turns an intense red in the autumn. Useful in contemporary landscapes and practical in surroundings that have limited footprints. You could row run these beauties to create a thoughtful garden wall and have privacy most of the year. After all, Oaks are notorious for their marcescent foliage. A Katsuratree that will add bold color to your landscape is Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Rotfuchs’. A cultivar that had a difficult time taking off, probably because of its original name, also goes by ‘Red Fox’. Thick, leathery red and purple foliage, not too dissimilar from ‘Forest Pansy’ Redbud is exciting to look at in our own garden. Because of its relatively new existence to gardens everywhere, projected heights and widths vary all across the Internet. Having grown this tree for the past decade in our garden, I can speak to its more columnar habit. Amenable to pruning, our ‘Rotfuchs’ are used to create a tight screen from our neighbors while others in our backyard form a tight grove of 3 pillars. Finally, on to my favorite tree, Ginkgo! Ginkgo biloba ‘Goldspire’ or ‘Blagon’ has a dense columnar habit whose footprint reaches 15-20 feet tall and only 5-6 feet wide. A non-fruiting male French selection, this cultivar has the reliable golden-yellow fall color we’ve come to expect from Ginkgo. Fan-shaped leaves provide an instant ID for this tree.
Don’t let your imagination and boundaries be dictated by your wallet. Buying a large tree because it is less expensive often means that it didn’t take as long to grow that tree. Think carefully about your plant choices and pay attention to the cultural tags offered on plant material. Be cognizant of your surroundings and understand that trees grow and in many instances quickly. Upright forms of plant material take up less space, are more architectural, are sleek in their design and won’t outpace their surroundings. Perhaps spending a little more upfront will give you the design you’ve envisioned all along.