Property: How does your garden grow? Instantly

You'd like a mature oak in front of your house? No problem, sir, we'll just bring one over from Italy. Penny Jackson finds that not everything in the garden is roses
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's not easy to sell the view from a spanking new house if the only thing to be seen is the trunk of a 20 ft maple tree. But where once builders might have reached for the chainsaw, they are now choosing spades and cranes.

In a two-day operation, Berkeley Homes this week employed a team of tree specialists to move the maple from its position perched high on an island of soil just a few metres away from one of five houses being built in Warnford, Hampshire.

It was dug up with an 8 ft root ball, put in a cradle and lifted by crane to the next plot. It now resides grandly in a position where it can be admired by everyone albeit at a cost of about pounds 3,000. Gone are the days when a bit of turf and a few shrubs with potential were enough and landscaping was a useful way of grassing over piles of builder's rubble.

Buyers who now expect to walk into a home complete in every detail are not prepared to wait five years for a garden to grow. They want the miracle of instant maturity. One day a new house is standing in a garden that looks more like a ploughed field and the next it is turfed, paved and planted with trees and shrubs that are years older than the building itself.

For the developer, this means making the most of natural surroundings and where conservationists and planners may have failed, the expectations of buyers have a more potent effect. Berkeley Homes, like other house- builders, knows the value in sales of creating a "green" atmosphere. It made its name in leafy, semi-rural locations and landscapers are among the first on site to draw up schedules of remedial work or fresh planting.

Civic Trees, which moved the Hampshire maple, has seen the spending on trees increase in recent years and not just from development companies. Householders are becoming aware that they can buy large trees and plant them with success.

"In London, our main problem is one of access", says Ken Sneddon, managing director of the firm, based in Tring, Hertfordshire. "We had to lift a nine-metre-high, four-ton copper beech over a four-storey house, as that was the only way into the garden. The crane blocked the road for a day and it cost the owner pounds 25,000. But if you want an instant 30-year-old tree there is no choice. We sometimes have to dissuade people from the more lunatic schemes."

Even those who buy in a rural setting are tempted to improve on nature. A large cedar planted in front of a house as a focal point will turn a large garden into something akin to a park. But, says Mr Sneddon, a great deal of his work involves screening out the neighbours as quickly as possible. "Much-maligned, large leylandii planted in the right place do have their uses," he adds.

Apart from the unfortunate few who find that a neighbour's investment grows into a hedge about as attractive as the Berlin Wall, everyone living nearby stands to gain.

Alan Gottschalk, regional director of Black Horse Agencies, has seen a house in his street transformed by ambitious planting. "Until the owner put in large trees and bushes it was very unattractive. Now it has a lovely outlook. People are prepared to spend a great deal on their gardens so that they look established. A woman who bought a big house in Surrey with a garden that was too bare for her paid tens of thousands of pounds to put in 20ft and 30 ft trees, large rhododendrons and a mass of mature shrubs."

At Mount Vernon in Hampstead, north London, they are waiting for the delivery of 20ft Italian oaks to complete the gardens. Bill Broadbent, managing director of Marylebone Warwick Balfour, who is developing the old hospital, went out to Italy with landscape architects to choose the trees himself.

He found himself south of Pisa, in a fertile valley that had been a huge lake in the 16th century. "I could hand-pick an avenue of trees and also found cone-shaped yews huge at seven years old that would have taken 15 years to grow in England. Trees will grow to 60ft or 70ft in 10 years there because of the nutrients in the soil and the warm summers.

"We are spending a good quarter of a million pounds on the gardens, but when people are paying pounds 1.5m on an apartment, you can't expect them to wait for the garden to mature."

But when it's a matter of historic sites, there are obvious constraints. At Peninsular Barracks in Winchester, the much-praised gardens were created following the original 17th century plans. English Heritage plays a part in such reconstructions and has been involved at every stage with the Walled Garden, a development at Burton Park in Sussex.

This is the most complicated landscaping yet undertaken by McAlpine Homes, which within the old walls has planted up a replica of the original19th century garden for sole use of the owners in the adjoining houses. On a personal scale, the bespoke service offered to buyers of new dwellings is gradually moving outdoors.

Wates has a garden design service to meet requests for seating areas, dog runs, water pools, arbors, irrigation systems or simply a vegetable plot. It involves a team of specialists and is priced individually.

Starting off with the perfect garden can still lead to disappointment. Ken Turner who runs Coblands in Kent, a wholesale nursery, says he is amazed by how many people ask for plants or trees of a certain size but stipulate that they mustn't get any bigger. Designer plants clearly have no business growing.

Civic Trees: 01442 825401.

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