Woodland obelisk in pale sage, crocus.co.uk, £42.99

Article by Pattie Barron

A NEW HOME is a unique opportunity to take a blank canvas and create the garden of your dreams. There are so many choices – and challenges. 

Whether you choose to fill the space with wild flowers, create a streamlined outdoor “room” for entertaining, or simply gaze on a perfectly striped lawn with pristine flowerbeds, you need to know this: a flat garden, all on one level, is a decidedly dull garden. So whatever choices you make, think vertically from the start.


Adding a tree or even a simple arch instantly makes the space a whole lot more interesting, turning it from one-dimensional to 3D. And if your garden or courtyard is on the small side, going up, using all that valuable air space, will make the most of every available inch.

Climbing rose American Pillar garlands a pergola

Trees bring a garden to life, as well as bringing in the birds. You just need one specimen tree to make an impact and break up an otherwise bland expanse. The best all-rounder, delivering starry white flowers in spring, purple berries in summer and rich red foliage in autumn, is justifiably the designers’ darling, Amelanchier lamarckii. It doesn’t get too big, and has a graceful presence year-round. Or you could plant a crab apple such as Malus Red Sentinel and enjoy a flurry of springtime blossom as well as a mass of glossy, scarlet fruits come September.

And if you’re struggling with shade, rejoice, because that will suit a multi-stemmed silver birch just fine, adding the essential height but also making a striking, stark silhouette, especially noticeable at dusk. It sets the scene, too, for a delicious woodland floor at its feet, of primroses, foxgloves and wood anemones.

You could create sleek, strong verticals – and summon the spirit of Tuscany – with a trio of pencil cypresses which will considerably enhance the horizon, but you’ll need to keep trimming them so they don’t reach dizzy heights.

Raised beds, tree ferns and standard bays create height in a small town garden. Designer Anthony Paul


Think of fixed features you could introduce into your plot to provide instant height. A column from a reclamation yard could make a pedestal to showcase, say, a sculptural succulent or a cascade of scented geraniums in a decorative bowl. Bring in two or three six-foot obelisks and even if they’re not clothed with roses or clematis, they’ll make an effective stand-alone statement at intervals to break up a border. You can find them in metal, topped with playful swirls or in more classic lines of trellised wood, painted in soft, plant-flattering shades. Even a few standard roses or bay lollipops, standing head and shoulders above every other plant, will liven up the landscape and make a so-so border rather special.


An arch – or several arches – are a great way of adding height, as well as providing just the right support for a fragrant climbing rose such as shell pink New Dawn or velvet-red Prince’s Trust. Give the garden gravitas with a single arch at the entrance; add several arches at intervals down a path, and suddenly you have a glamorous colonnade. A pergola needn’t be a five-mile walkway, but can delineate an outdoor dining space that provides attractive, dappled shade from overhead beams… it’s your choice whether to garland them with a grapevine. Once you start to think laterally – or rather, vertically – the sky really is the limit.

Clematis Etoile Violette makes the perfect easy-care climber


Standard and climbing perfumed roses: Peter Beales roses at classicroses.co.uk

Specimen trees: ornamental-trees.co.uk

Trellis wood obelisks: waitrose.co.uk

Galvanised steel pergola, obelisks and arches: agriframes.co.uk

Wooden pergola kits: forestgarden.co.uk

Photography by Clive Nichols