Your Guide to Creating an Allée of Trees or Shrubs at Your Own Home
This underrated garden style is actually easy to execute, and it's a look favored by Martha on her own Bedford farm.
An allée is a garden feature made up of evenly spaced plants in rows and is typically placed along a long driveway or sidewalk (it can also be used straight across a landscape for spatial structure); it usually leads the eye towards a focal point, like a fountain, gazebo, or home. Martha knows the merit of an allée: She actually employs them along the carriage roads of her Bedford, New York, farm, seen here. Because this style is normally found in larger, more formal spaces, many green thumbs are hesitant to create allées on their own landscapes. However, according to Adrienne R. Roethling, the Director of Curation and Mission Delivery at Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden, adding an eye-catching row of trees or shrubs to your yard isn't just possible—it can have design major impact, too.
Look for a straightaway.
Adding an allée of plants to your yard is an enjoyable process, says Roethling, who calls the style both adventurous and underused. To do so, you first need to look for a straightaway. "It doesn't have to be long or tall—and can be as wide or narrow as you want—but it should lead to a focal point," she says. "Maybe you want an allée leading from the side door to the garage, or out the back door to the shed, or from the road to the garage." You can even use an allée as a border for an outdoor area. "If you want to keep your vegetable garden secluded, plant a couple of rows to block the view, making it aesthetically pleasing at the same time," she says. "Creating these outdoor 'rooms' is a very English style and we occasionally see that same concept in the States."
Determine your allée's size.
Roethling has seen large, small, manicured, and low-growing allées—so it's safe to say that you can adapt the size of your own to fit your yard. "Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, has a low-growing allée of blue mist spirea and caryopteris that spans approximately 300 feet long towards a gazebo," she says. "The lawn through the middle is about six to eight feet wide." Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, at a spot called the Plant Delights Nursery, another allée was placed along a driveway with rows of Metasequioa, or dawn redwoods, spaced about 12 feet apart; they tower over you as you enter the property, Roethling shares. "Here at Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden, we planted 14 hornbeam trees in two rows about 10 feet apart," she adds.
Choose your plants.
Because your options are virtually endless, Roethling suggests homeowners choose varieties that are readily available, low maintenance, and hardy for their allées. "Hornbeams, cypress, redbuds, and weeping cherries are perfect small trees. Large shrubs, like camellia, hydrangeas, or viburnums, would be ideal too." Keep in mind these plants' mature size when creating or developing your pathway, she adds; for lesser utilized spaces, a path wide enough for two people to pass through side-by-side is ideal. "Those who entertain may want a larger walkway where people can pass comfortably—six feet is ideal for passing," she says, adding that there should be more than three trees in a row on either side for the area to be classified an allée.
Mind the vertical spacing.
Before you get started, be sure the lower or secondary branches of any small trees will grow to the same height. "You also want to make sure there are two secondary branches on the opposite side of the trunk; you may have to limb them up to achieve this," Roethling explains. "They need to reach out and touch their neighbors." The trees that end the line may not need two branches on either side, though. "You also may have to force the branches horizontally with a training structure for a year or two," she says.
Create a focal point.
When creating a focal point, Roethling says one of the worst things you could do is place a bench at the end your allée. "Homeowners may not mind it so much, but guests often don't like being part of a focal point," she says. "People will stare and there is nowhere to turn until you get to the end." Instead, she suggests putting a planter, fountain, a cut-through, or intersection on the other side—or simply open your allée up into another garden. "Homeowners may like the idea of leading towards an attractive shed or a vegetable garden," she says.
When it doubt, plant trees—not flowers or shrubs.
When Roethling thinks of allées, she often thinks of natural walls, an effect that trees cater to best. Scale down the size too much—by using low growing boxwoods or liriope, for example—and the feeling of being canopied by nature is lost. As for her favorite tree varieties to work with? "I think it could be a lot of fun to do random fruit trees—but don't intersperse them with conifers," she says. "Then it becomes a mixed border."