Sydney Suburban Trees

Notable trees aside, the vast majority of Sydney trees are in suburban gardens or planted along suburban streets, and are as much a part of the suburban scenery as everything else that comprises it: the houses, apartment buildings, fences, lawns, letterboxes, powerlines, cars, garages and street signs. New suburbs, in which the trees have not yet been planted or not yet grown, have a stark look to them. Photographs of newly built houses in the 1950s look marooned on their blocks of land like cakes on plates.

Treeless Suburb

A Max Dupain photograph of East Hills in 1948, from “The Fibro Frontier” by Charles Pickett.

Once the trees grow the streets look softer, more lived in. Once they grow tall enough to reach the powerlines, they are pruned into fantastic shapes by council tree surgeons, the most common of which is a giant wishbone.

Tree and Powerlines

Of all suburban trees, conifers have the greatest personalities, often a reflection of the person who trims them, into shapes regular and irregular. Some are tall and thin, others short and squat, some are geometrically perfect while others are wild and shaggy.

Conifer with a face

The conifer with a face, Boronia Park.

Suburban gardeners plant trees to commemorate the birth of children and the death of pets, to hide their windows from neighbours, or to attract birds, or for many other secret reasons those passing by could never guess. Houses are characterised by their trees: a front garden with one giant palm, or a garden with a tall avocado tree, the fruit too high to pick. The gardens with frangipani trees that drop flowers onto the footpath below, or lemon trees that grow over the back lane, from which lemons can be stolen.

Suburban trees remind us of elsewheres, tropical islands in the middle of roundabouts, hedge mazes.

Tropical Island

palm tree roundabout


Solid Hedge

On some street corners are the remains of urban gardening interventions. Here only one branch of the enlarged potplant survives, as the cars stream constantly past.

Ashfield Guerilla Gardeners