The Form of Things to Come, Part 3 – Weeping Form

Until a day or two ago, it was feeling quite springy around here – longer days, mild daytime temperatures, and I’d begun the flurry of client interviews and site assessments that typify my spring schedule. Then BAM – old man winter returns with a big dump of the white stuff.  Lucky for you, this means a short reprieve from aforementioned activities, and I can work on this post. Next in the plant form series is weeping form.

Weeping Form

Weeping plants can be huge trees like Betula pendula ‘Laciniata’, or small grafted specimens like Betula pendula ‘Youngii’. The large weeping trees have less distinct form because there are countless branches, each with delicate drape – the resultant outline of form is therefore somewhat amorphous, though still quite elegant.

Weeping Birch

Large weeping trees like this weeping birch don’t exhibit a distinct outline – the weeping habit of their branches creates more textural interest, than well-defined form. Photo: Pat Gaviller

To me, they bring a sense of quiet luxuriance to a landscape, perhaps because I associate this form with the giant weeping willows that reside near still waters – the picture of both opulence and serenity.

Although these big weepers lack definitive form, their lacy texture makes them lovely feature trees – if scale and proportion allow. They are especially lovely as waterside accents and make elegant shade trees – again if the size of your house and/or property allows.

Small weeping trees offer much stronger architectural form than their larger counterparts– their arched weeping branches create an umbrella-like form. Many of the weeping specimens available at nurseries are actually low-growing creeping shrubs that have been grafted onto a standard, for example Young’s weeping birch, Walker’s weeping Caragana or Rosy Glo weeping crabapple.

This form draws the eye up … and back down again. It is strongly dominant so should always be used as a single specimen – I can’t stress this enough. Don’t try to group them in threes, or use two to frame an entry, or plant several in linear fashion – it just doesn’t work. I made the mistake of planting two in my front yard several years ago – you can read about it in my post from last year around this time: Form, Colour and Texture in the Winter Garden. The bottom line is, any more than one and they’ll just compete for dominance and create visual unrest. So one is enough – got it?

Malus Rosy Glo 3

Malus ‘Rosy Glo’ makes a beautiful specimen tree as it looks spectacular any time of year – here I’ve underplanted with Juniperus sabina ‘Moor Dense’ which stages her nicely. Photos: Sue Gaviller

C. arborescens ‘Walker’s Weeping’

A weeping form makes a nice centrepiece for a symmetrical composition. Left – Caragana arborescens ‘Walker’s Weeping’ in a client’s raised planter. Right – another of those pretty scenes I periodically drive by, C. arborescens ‘Walker’s Weeping’ in winter still has strong form. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Weeping Caragana

Walker’s weeping Caragana: simple repetition of line makes this tidy scene one I often stop to admire. Photo: Sue Gaviller

These small weeping trees are useful for highlighting architectural details, like arched doorways or windows – the arching form of the branches mimic the architectural line, thus bringing attention to it, and creating unity (by repetition).

Fountains too, can be ‘echoed’ in this way with the placement of a weeping tree nearby.

As well, a weeping form looks very appealing at the top of, or near a slope – the weeping branches reiterate the sloping line of the hillside.

And don’t plant one of these feature trees in the middle of an expanse of lawn where it will appear lonely and insignificant – it’s much more effective when staged and supported by the presence of other plant material.

Weeping Norway Spruce

A fine-looking specimen, Picea abies ‘Pendula’ looks splendid in this sloped front yard garden in charming Elora, Ontario. Photo: Sue Gaviller

I’ve had several clients tell me they don’t like the shape of weeping trees because it makes them feel sad (maybe it’s the name – y’know power of suggestion and all). I don’t get this. To me weeping forms are graceful and very pleasing to the eye. Indeed their appropriate use demonstrates a mature design sensibility. I guess it’s a humble reminder for me, and all you aspiring designers, that there is a degree of subjectivity in design that must be acknowledged and respected. And with that little piece of wisdom my friends, I shall bid you adieu.

More “Fun with Forms” in my next post – see ya then.

Humbly yours,

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

14 comments on “The Form of Things to Come, Part 3 – Weeping Form

  1. pbmgarden says:

    Although I like them sometimes, I’ve never fully embraced small weeping trees. After reading your discussion I will have to pay more attention to how well the tree is sited. Your guidelines for siting make a lot of sense. Great post. Hope spring arrives soon. Susie

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Hi Susie,

      Thanks for your comment – indeed proper placement of these pretty trees is essential. Because they are such dominant features they need to be sited accordingly. Otherwise they just look out of place, which I suspect is why some gardeners aren’t real fond of them. Glad you’ve warmed to their possibilities.

      As for spring………well, I try not to get my hopes up too early around here. There’s always one more snowfall Mother Nature has hidden away for us.

      Happy waiting,

  2. They need space to present in their best light, I agree. As a specimen plant they get the siting they need. Another thing is to use sparingly. As a focal point, they draw so much attention to themselves and deserving so. Great form for Japanese gardens too.

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Hi Donna,

      Weeping forms do indeed draw attention – this is why I stress that they must be sited appropriately, staged effectively, and that one is all you need.

      As for their use in Japanese gardens, for me it would really depend on the particular tree used, and which style of Japanese garden I was going for………but that’s a whole other subject. Maybe I’ll do a post on Japanese gardening one day – thanks for the idea!

      And thanks for stopping by!


  3. I have nothing weeping in my garden, but would love to add something with this shape. Unlike shrubs and trees that draw your eye up, this shape draws your eye down and that reversal of eye movement appeals to me.

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      Weeping trees can be very serene when used properly, so hopefully you’ll be able to find an ideal spot for one in your garden. I’m really picky when it comes to sourcing the perfect specimen. Some of them can be so goofy looking, which is another thing I should have mentioned in the post – choose carefully.

      Hope spring is coming to your part of the country sooner than it is here.

      Thanks for reading,

  4. Hi Sue! I’m planning to finally get myself a Rosy Glo this spring and place it in the location you recommended – beside a slope and under planted with Russian cypress. Can’t wait to have that year-round form to gaze at out my kitchen window!

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Hi Janice,

      Glad to hear you’re continuing to progress with your garden reno’s – it always goes so much slower than we hope doesn’t it? I’ve been keeping track of your progress as you blog about it – look forward to seeing it as it nears completion.

      Anyways, hope you enjoy your new Rosy Glo as much as I’ve enjoyed mine.

      Happy Spring (almost),

  5. Dale Williamson says:

    Hi Sue,

    I have a weeping pea shrub that stopped “weeping” a few years ago. It now has oddly erect branches. I’ve left it alone, not sure what to do with it and hoping that it will grow into something decent looking enough to leave in the garden.

    Do you have any idea why this would happen? I don’t recall ever pruning it, though I can’t swear that I didn’t cut off a dead branch.

    Any help you can offer would be most welcome.


    • Hi Dale,

      It depends where the erect branches originate from – if they are growing from the base, these are called basal shoots and are a fairly common problem with grafted standards. Sometimes this begins soon after planting – often because of the type of wood they are grafted on to. If doesn’t become an issue until many years later, the most likely cause is the roots near the base of the plant have been disturbed. The only way to deal with this problem is to continue clipping them at the base – a real pain I know.

      If on the other hand, the erect branches are growing from the grafted portion (the upper part), it just needs pruning. Hard to say why it might happen – branches are a bit like human hair; it doesn’t always grow the way we want it too. I have the same issue with many of my clients’ weeping standards, as well as my own, and quite regularly have to prune these weird-looking branches off. Without appropriate pruning, your little specimen tree could transmogrify into a scary looking monster…………..or at least something quite different than its intended form.

      Hope this helps – and thanks for reading,

      • Dale Williamson says:

        Hi Sue,

        Thanks for your reply. I’m afraid it’s already turned into that scary looking monster that you referenced above. Every branch is erect and instead of “weeping pea shrub” I’ve taken to calling it “pea shrub erectus.” It’s about 10-15 years old and wept faithfully for years. It may be happier this way, but I’m not. Your reference to human hair is a good analogy. This specimen looks like the classic photo of someone’s hair standing on end following an electric shock.

        Figuring I had nothing to lose at this point, today I slowly bent the branches that I could over into the classic shape, tied them with twine and staked them into the ground. The oldest branches that are too “woody” to bend were pruned off. The yellow twine looks only slightly more ridiculous at the moment than pea shrub erectus. I don’t know if it can be conditioned back to shape, but it will be an interesting experiment nonetheless.

        Thanks again for your help, Sue.


      • Ha ha, pea shrub erectus – very funny. Anyway, I look forward to hearing how your experiment worked – do let me know.

      • Dale Williamson says:

        Hi Sue,

        Following up with an update. After staking for 12 months (May 2016 to May 2017), I untied the pea shrub for the rest of the summer/fall season to see what would happen. Probably no surprise to you, he erected again and I had to make the decision to put him out of my misery. A strap to the pickup pulled him out by his roots. The experiment is over.

        Any suggestions for a small (no more than 5 foot) weeping tree/bush that can tolerate Vermont winters? This week is unusual (expected to be -30 on Friday night). We usually only get down to teens below zero occasionally.

        Thanks for any help you can give.


      • Hi Dale,

        Thanks for the update. Sorry you had to say good-bye to “pea shrub erectus”. As for a replacement, you might try Royal Beauty weeping crab which is quite compact. Or weeping larch (Larix decidua ‘Pendula’)- it has soft wispy needles so offers similar texture to the weeping Caragana. If you want something that is green all year long, weeping Norway spruce is also quite nice. All do very well here on the Canadian prairies where winter temps regularly fall to -30C.

        Best of luck!



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