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Mature garden is overwhelming

I'm a pretty inexperienced gardener who has, since moving five years ago, had a garden with a lot of very mature trees and large shrubs. We've spent the past years clearing out a lot of jungle like growth - adding about 10 feet of space at the end of the garden, and getting rid of ivy that was collapsing the wall (this is still a work in progress).

Although we're fortunate to have a decent size plot (70's housing estates were more generous than today I think) with some decent size plants that make it pretty private for a suburban garden, I don't love a lot about it. It's functional and gives my children a place to play but nothing hangs together and it lacks any sort of character. At some point - when time and budget allow - I would like to remedy that, but for the moment it's a case of making the most of what we have.

My biggest issue is that we've got some large plants (a pussy willow, two plum trees, a couple of evergreen leylandii types, a large laurel) which provide privacy, but they're all huge and getting bigger, and less manageable every year. I really want to cut them down to a manageable size (or get rid completely) but i'm worried that I will regret getting rid of too much and ending up with a flat barren space...

I don't mind doing stuff myself and I've tried looking for advice, but most of what I've read assumes that inexperienced gardeners are looking for advice on planting, and that only experienced gardeners have mature gardens!

Apologies if this sort of question comes up a lot - please let me know if there are any threads that answer it already - but any help or advice appreciated.



  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,634
    Pussy willows can be pruned hard in the dormant season.  Maybe a bit late now as the sap will be rising and they may bleed to death.   You could wait till late spring/early summer and thin out some branches and shorten others and then, if it's still too wieldy, hack it hard next autumn after leaf fall.

    Conifers don't take kindly to being hacked but can be tidied up as long as you don't cut all the green off and go into brown wood.  They do not re-grow from brown wood.  Maybe plant something more attractive to grow on so you can remove them completely later on without losing privacy.

    Plum trees can be pruned but best not in winter as this may encourage disease - see advice here - 

    A good way to have privacy and height is trellis panels and/or pergolas with climbers such as roses, clematis, honeysuckle on them to provide colour and/or perfume.  I suggest you google about on pinterest for garden design ideas and have a look at some magazines - online or at the library to save funds - to get ideas and then make a list of features you would like - seating, dining, BBQ, pond, herbs, veggies, cut flowers, low maintenance shrubs and perennials, shed/summer house, composting and recycling bin storage, etc - and then try drawing them all to scale on paper. 

    Do you want plants you can pick up at the local DIY or garden centre or do you want to start sowing seeds and growing on?   How much time will you have to keep it all looking good?   Bear in mind that as children grow up their needs change so your garden can involve into a more sociable and adult phase in due course.    

    Think about all that and then prioritise.

    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • LTobyLToby Posts: 224
    Any type of tree can be trimmed from all sides and tops. I do that all the time. Have not experienced one that disliked trimming. One thing though, is the timing of trimming. Oftentimes, I trim my trees in early to mid Spring but for deciduous ones before they become alive in Spring. 

    With those that grow taller and taller, I hired an Arborist (tree surgeon) with equipment to cut the top  but make sure there is still some character in terms of visual interest. I have seen a lot who just cut their tall trees like it had a haircut and lost its natural visual look. When you hire an Arborist to cut, hire someone who understands tree health and artistic natural looks; make sure to discuss with them your preferred outlook after trimming. Have seen many 'who says they are Arborist but they had no clue in terms of visual looks and care' - they just give the tree a haircut and get your money. My neighbours had those experiences. 

    As you mentioned, privacy is essential, and a worthy benefit from trees that grow with their spread. Again, you can trim them with visual interest in mind and without sacrificing your privacy. Thinning the crown is always a good thing.  

    Depending on your location ... Resources i visit are:  
    RHS - 
    Garderners world has info as well -

    Aberdeenshire, Scotland
  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 Posts: 11,628
    I would have the two leylandi types completely removed ( it looks like there's some trees behind in other gardens to look at) and possibly the pussy willow. Then assess the
    garden again and live with it a bit before deciding whether or not to keep the plum trees and laurel. Have a look around your local area to see if there are any shrubs, trees or plants you really like and get some of those. 
    North East Somerset - Clay soil over limestone
  • Hey. Long time since I last posted, but wanted to say thanks for the advice you gave. Ended up taking out both conifers and the pussy willow. Also cleared a ton of ivy last summer. Not lost too much privacy. New patio and the whole thing is suddenly a lot ‘cleaner‘ and easier to do actual gardening in (like planting things rather than fighting with weeds and overgrown stuff). All this enforced extra time in the garden is helping too!
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 86,036
    Love posts like that  <3
    Thanks for letting us know how you’re getting on ... keep in touch, stay safe and well and enjoy your garden 🌞 

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • B3B3 Posts: 26,435
    You've done a great job. I have sunny brick wall envy😉
    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 Posts: 11,628
    That looks great! Enjoy your garden and stay safe.
    North East Somerset - Clay soil over limestone
  • InglezinhoInglezinho Posts: 568
    Well done!
    Everyone likes butterflies. Nobody likes caterpillars.
  • LTobyLToby Posts: 224
    Big changes took place indeed. Congratulations ... enjoy it.
    Aberdeenshire, Scotland
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