P81219We learned it young from Schoolhouse Rock. Those of us who studied Landscape Design were compelled to learn why, and assume that it is always true.
Well, I am not a landscape designer. I am just a horticulturist and arborist. I can see why three is the best number for groups of trees, and that five is probably the second best option for larger groups, followed by seven, and then nine, and so on. I sort of understand why two, four, six, eight and so on are not so desirable. However, these rules are not absolute.
When I was a kid, many suburban front yards were outfitted with three European white birch trees. Such groups were typically in a corner of the rectangular yards, just outside of the curvacious mowing strips that were designed to make the rectangular spaces seem to be more irregular than they really were. Individually, the groups of three birches were appealing. Collectively, they were cliché. They were supposed to look more ‘natural’; but there is nothing natural about contrived groups of three trees, especially when it is so prevalent. That is not how they grow in forests.
Now, although I am no landscape designer, I do happen to know that good landscape design is compatible with the architecture of the building that it is associated with.
Early American architecture really should be landscaped in the Early American style. This might seem to be simple, just because Early American landscapes are simple and utilitarian, with most of the plant material at a safe distance from the buildings. The difficulty is that such landscapes are very symmetrical, with paired shrubbery and trees, and several paired and evenly spaced trees flanking roadways. The left matches the right. That means quite a bit of twos, fours, sixes, eights and so on. Early American landscape design developed at a time when nature was something to be dominated and utilized in the most efficient manner possible. Not many landscape designers comprehend this philosophy, or would adapt to it if they did understand.
The group of three dwarf Alberta spruce in the picture below was not intended to be a rebellious expression of formality. As you can see, it really is a group of three. Yet, they are also evenly spaced in a straight row that parallels the adjacent wall. Without pruning, they will always be very symmetrically conical. Cool!P81219+

7 thoughts on “Horridculture – Three Is A Magic Number

  1. I guess rules are always meant to be broken, but the tried and utilised rule of uneven numbers being more pleasing is universal. Makes me think of the 3 silver birch I planted in my NZ garden and wonder if they are still there 30+ years later

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    1. The numbers should be determined by the style of the landscape. Even number work well for formal landscapes, and of course Early American landscapes. Odd number work well for most modern landscapes, and landscapes of relaxed style. It seems that with the little bit of planting that we do, the numbers are determined by what fits into the landscape, and where it fits. There happen to be many European white birch. I do not know if there is an even or an odd number of them because there are so many.

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  2. We don’t so much think of numbers just maybe that it might be nice to have a certain tree planted in that spot then think a little bit about if it would grow well there or wreck something else already growing there. We also do little maintenance and chance seedlings are always popping up and we are always careful not to harm them.

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    1. In urban areas, almost all landscapes are synthetic. There is much more space here, but almost all of it is forested, with only small areas of synthetic landscape. Therefore, conformity to traditions of design is not so important. Also, we very rarely get to plant trees. We put much more effort into removing crowded trees. Many of the chance seedlings here are coastal redwoods, which are the tallest trees in the World. With few exceptions, they must get pulled.


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