Trees bring many attributes to the landscape: height; colour; seasonal interest; structure; drama; screening; habitat; the list goes on.

From a designer’s point of view, one of the most useful qualities is form. Trees are versatile and can be used to create a variety of effects through their natural forms or through human intervention – creating shapes through topiary and intelligent pruning. At Hillier Trees, we offer a wide variety of shaped trees whether through their natural form or through skilled shape training.

Shaped Trees through Natural Forms

Multi-stem trees – which arise as a result of coppicing young trees – create natural branching structures and greater interest at lower levels than their standard counterparts. Many of the British-grown trees from Hillier are available as multi-stem. These have been selected to make the most of their stem colour, or to bring their flowers and seasonal leaf interest to a scale that can be enjoyed at eye level.

Betula utilis var Jacquemontii multi-stem trees growing in field

Another natural form of shaped tree is fastigiate selections. These can be useful to introduce strong forms without the need incorporate annual maintenance plans to clip the trees back into shape. Fastigiate trees exist across a variety of genus, covering small, medium and to large growing trees. Many of these benefit from being branched all the way to the ground as ‘feathered’ trees. However, most are available with a clear stem and can be specified at the time of enquiry.

Smaller growing columnar variety

Medium growing upright varieties

Large growing fastigiate forms

Globe or dense, rounded canopies occur naturally in a number of species and can offer real impact in both large and smaller schemes. The main ones offered at Hillier are:

Quercus robur fastigiata Koster feathered trees growing in rows in field

Shaped Trees through Clipped Forms

For formal shapes, clipped topiary provides very strong design features. Some species are naturally able to thrive when being pruned on a regular basis. This does mean these trees will need to be regularly pruned once planted in order to keep the shapes, but depending on the species and how formal a look is required, annual pruning or twice yearly should suffice.

Pleached Trees

These are trained into flat, two-dimensional shapes, usually with a clear stem. The most common varieties of pleached tree are Tilia (lime) or Hornbeam (Carpinus), however on a smaller scale it is popular to use flowering trees such as crab apple (Malus) or ornamental pear (Pyrus). Evergreen trees, such as Photinia, Holm Oak and Laurel can also make effective pleached trees.

Tiered pleached trees have single horizontal stems – like espalier fruit — and are more delicate in their appearance than standard pleached trees. Typically, these would have a 2m clear stem, then five tiers of branches 30cm apart. Panel pleached trees have a solid canopy. These are a little like a hedge on stilts, and are more suitable for screening purposes.

Cubed or Box-head Trees

These are ideal for achieving height and interest in a smallspace and a strong three-dimensional impact when used in greater numbers on a larger scale.

Globe Clipped Trees

These have a similar use as cubed trees, but the shape gives a friendly relaxed formality to a space.

Parasol Trained Trees

Parasol trees have a central clear stem with a flat spreading roof of trained branches. These are ideal to create a natural parasol to entertain guests outside in the shade both domestically or in the public realm – think coffee culture and relaxed plazas!

Pollarded Trees

Pollarded trees are not just for urban streets, although they are an effective form of tree management. Limes (Tilia) and Willow (Salix) can also make striking pollards that convey a different atmosphere — like a pollarded lime avenue creating a relaxed sense of arrival to a rural retreat or country farmstead.

Column Pruned Trees

These are very useful to punctuate a garden or public urban space and can be used randomly or as a row of pillars to demark sections. Hornbeam (Carpinus) and Beech (Fagus) are most commonly used because of their dense growing habit with short internodes.


Archways create instant entrances or natural pergolas if used in numbers. Most commonly grown as Hornbeam (Fagus), archway trained trees provide lush green arcs and orange-brown  autumn and winter hues.

Full Panel Trees

These are similar to pleached panels, but differ by being branched down to the ground. They are excellent to divide small spaces and create ‘rooms’, or to screen unsightly areas.

Cloud Pruned Trees

These are living works of art. Years of pruning has been carried out to create these sculptures. As they are individual and command a certain level of investment, it is advised that these are hand-picked and tagged by the client.

Spindle Pruned Apples Trees

Shaped in the traditional way, these allow fruit to be picked from these mature orchard trees from two layers of lateral branches with a strong trunk running through the middle.

Carpinus betulus trees growing in containers

Caroline Swann

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