I Like Trees
No garden is too small to have a tree.
In fact small gardens need big plants or they tend to look
rather twee, the lack of large plants seems to emphasize
just how small they are. Large gardens obviously need trees to provide scale
and grandeur, and everything in-between just needs one or more trees to make
them look better and be better places to be in.
Some people are very anti-tree.
I've never understood this, except that it's probably because they're
fairly anti-plant in general. I remember some-one once saying to me that she
didn't want a flowering cherry in her garden as "It makes such a mess
when all the blossom falls off". That's all part of the charm and beauty
of flowering cherries! Lovely pink confetti that colours the ground after having
coloured the tree. The petals are so insubstantial that they break down or dry
out and effectively disappear in no time anyway. Poor soul, to be pitied rather
than scolded as my grandmother would have said. (I must confess though that
I have a similar attitude to the petals that fall from the pink Pelargoniums
in our house much to the annoyance of my wife who wants to banish them to the
A garden without trees
scarcely deserves to be called a garden.
A man does not plant a tree
for himself, he plants it for posterity.
Trees are the best monuments
that a man can erect to his own memory. They speak his praises without
flattery, and they are blessings to children yet unborn.
Lord Orrery, 1749
So, all gardens need trees
(If you don't agree with this by now, then I suggest you link to another
page, or keep reading and maybe you'll end up agreeing).
But which to have?
Not knowing the answer to this is possibly the reason that some people are anti-tree,
they either have an inappropriate tree in their garden or have seen or lived
some-where where inappropriate trees have been planted.
For most gardens the trees that immediately come to mind are probably inappropriately
large. Oak, ash, beech, horse chestnut, sycamore etc. are all fine trees and
I encourage any-one who has the space to plant them if they can. Most of us
however do not have the space and such large trees can take over, making life
difficult for other plants and shading the garden to an unacceptable extent.
Most weeping trees are best
avoided unless you have lots of space, as they tend to cover a large area
down to ground level.
Dark-leaved trees are
also best avoided by most people as they can be rather overpowering in small
spaces, they need equally large but lighter coloured trees to set them off,
and that requires space.
Birches - Betula spp.
birches are admirable trees for small gardens, some types can grow tall
(eventually to 50ft or more), but they tend not to spread very far and
have an open canopy that gives a dappled shade, a lovely effect. They
need an open sunny situation.
The native silver birch
Betula pendula is a popular choice, but the bark is rather
rough and splits with dark patches forming with age, go for named
cultivars such as "Dalicarlica" / "Laciniata"
or "tristis" if you can find them. I prefer
the Himalayan birch, Betula utilis "jacquemontii"
(usually sold as Betula jacquemontii and sometimes
West Himalayan birch) or the paper birch, Betula papyrifera.
Both have a smoother, brighter bark than the native species and
are fairly easy to find.
If you have more space,
birches can be planted as a triangular group of 3 about 3 feet apart.
You tend to get a similar canopy as if a single tree was on its own,
but 3 times the trunks and bark which is the main feature.
Buy Betula / Birches
Crataegus monogyna - Hawthorn, May
upright, spreads with age. Covered in fragrant white flowers in May,
with good autumn leaf colour and red berries later in the year. Crataegus "Paul's
Scarlet" has double dark pink flowers. Hawthorns are very
tough and will grow in all but the wettest soils. To 20ft tall by 15ft
Buy Crataegus / Hawthorn
Sorbus spp. - Rowans and Whitebeams
have pinnate leaves (small leaflets coming from a central part (rachis)
which tend to cast less shadow than whitebeams which have simple leaves.
(hupeh rowan), a small
spreading tree with white spring flowers and pink-tinged white autumn
berries, good autumn colour too. Sorbus commixta has brilliant
autumn colour but not such good flowers or fruit. Sorbus
aria "Lutescens", Whitebeam has wonderful new
leaves in the spring, a vibrant lime-green on the top, softly hairy
silver underneath, white flowers and red autumn berries.
Buy Sorbus / Rowan
fruit tree is a very good choice if space is limited, they provide spring
flowers and interest as the seasons progress as well as something to
fill your tum. Apples and plums in particular do a very good line in "old
and gnarled" from a relatively young age and tend to be good climbing
Size depends on the rootstock
- pay attention now. Most fruit trees are shoots that are grafted onto
a rootstock. The shoot (the bit above the ground) determines the
variety of the fruit and the rootstock (the bit under the ground) determines
the size of the tree. So you need to be clear about this as the same
variety of apple could be 8ft or 28ft tall depending on the rootstock.
Also, (don't talk
at the back please), many varieties of apple and pear in particular
are fussy about fertilization requirements. Make sure that you are either
buying a self-fertile variety (easy with plums - Victoria, reliably
self-fertile and one of the best for flavour), or you are buying two
that will reliably cross fertilize. Some types that are allegedly self-fertile
will still produce more fruit if they have a pollination partner nearby.
not giving recommendations (other than Victoria for plum) because there
is so much variety and availability varies so much. Just make sure when
you go to buy, you remember to ask about;
Which fruit is easiest?
Apples are easiest and
most forgiving, pears are fussier and need a warmer and not exposed
position, plums are about the same as pears.
Which fruit is most
rewarding to grow?
Depends on what you like.
Personally I'd always have at least one
plum tree as they're straightforward to grow, plums are
never especially cheap in the shops and I love plums.
Pears are also good, they put on a great show in the spring
as the flowers last so long and more of them are out at any one time
than any other fruit blossom. As well as the pears themselves, many
varieties give good autumn colour too.
Apples are easy and the least fussy of the tree fruits, which
often means that there's more chance that you'll be given some
for free by friends, neighbours and family, to my mind this means there's
more reason to go for plums and pears.
Buy fruit trees
Malus spp.- Crab apples
or conical trees, covered with pink buds in April opening to white flowers
and followed with ornamental fruit in the autumn with leaf colouration
as well. To about 25-30ft tall by 20ft wide.
M. "John Downie"
has orange / red fruit that are the best for making
jelly, M. "Evereste" has very fragrant
flowers and red flushed yellow / orange fruit, M. "Golden
Hornet" has masses of long lasting golden yellow fruit.
Buy Malus / Crab apples
Syringa - Lilac
speaking perhaps really a shrub and not actually a tree, but sufficiently
tree-like for these purposes,
grows to about 20ft by 20ft if allowed free-rein, but vigorous
and responsive to hard renovative pruning. One of the most wonderfully
fragrant plants in the garden.
The main thing to be
aware of is that lilacs flower on wood that is at least a year old,
so if you prune hard then there is likely to be at least one flower-free
Comes in a range of colours
from white through pinks and blues to darker purple, with a pale yellow
and of course the original lilac colour - to my mind the only
one to have. Most garden cultivars are varieties of Syringa vulgaris.
Many available equally good, these recommended;
"Katherine Havermayer" - lilac,
"Charles Joly" - dark purple,
"Mme. Lemoine" - white.
Buy Syringia / Lilac
Ilex spp. -
for their evergreen foliage and winter colour provided by berries and
/ or variegated leaves. Slow growing and usually only available as smaller
specimens as they don't take too kindly to being moved. Will tolerate
shade, especially the darker-leaved forms, variegated types require
sun to bring colours out to the optimum. Hollies are usually either
male or female and only the females have the berries, but they need
a male to achieve this! The naming of varieties doesn't help the
Ilex aquifolium "Silver Queen"
- variegated green / cream, male.
I. aquifolium "Mme. Briot" variegated green /
yellow, female, red berries.
I. aquifolium " J.C. van tol" - self-fertile female,
abundant red berries, dark green smooth margined leaves.
my favourites I. aquifolium "ferox argentea", hedgehog
holly - variegated cream / green, male with spikes all over
the surface of the leaf, a bit more fussy about soil than the others,
doesn't like it too heavy or wet.
Buy Holly varieties |
Holly Golden King |
Holly hedging pack
Acer palmatum - Japanese
archetypal Japanese tree, usually bought as a small specimen 1-2ft tall.
Not tolerant to being exposed to cold, wind or full sun and best grown
initially at least in a container so you can move them about to find
the best position. They don't like chalky soils preferring it on
the acid-side. Numerous cultivars available, one of the commonest (and
cheapest) being "atropurpureum" which needs positioning
carefully as it can appear rather dark and dense. The "dissectum"
cultivars are very beautiful with finely cut leaves. "Aureum"
has plainer shaped leaves but a lovely bright yellow colour. "Sango-kaku"
(senkaki) has bright coral-red winter shoots with yellow autumn
Buy Japanese maples / Acers
Prunus spp. - Flowering
flowering cherries are widely planted trees for good reason, very little
comes near them for their show of blossom in the spring and they will
grow, but not too large on a wide range of soils. They are however not
quite so decorative for the time when they are not in flower and some
are best admired in some-one else's garden.
- Flagpole cherry, very upright, will grow to 20ft eventually,
but no wider than about 5ft, lavishly covered with shell pink flowers
in April, ideal for the smallest spaces, if you have a bit more room,
then P. "Spire" is an excellent choice, narrow
when young and vase shaped when mature, less austere to some eyes than
the Flagpole cherry. P. "Tai Haku" - Great
white cherry, is probably my favourite of all the spring
flowering cherries, brilliant white flowers 2" across that seem
to glow in the sunlight, with autumn colour too, to 25ft by 25ft.
P. sargentii, - sergeant cherry, pink blossom in April and
one of the best for autumn colour, to 25ft by 25ft.
Buy Prunus / Flowering Cherry
Robinia pseudoacacia "Frisia"
fast growing tree with beautiful golden yellow foliage. Can grow quite
large to about 50ft, but like the birches (above), never really seems
it due to the open canopy and light colour of the foliage. Smaller specimens
sometimes available (in 2 or 3 L containers), but not fully hardy until
its big enough to fill a 10L pot - a smaller plant in the spring should
have grown sufficiently by the autumn however. Don't buy them bare
rooted, you might be lucky, but frequently they die if not planted very
quickly (and you don't always know when they were dug-up). Not actually
a Japanese native, but has a Japanese feel about it.
Branches are rather brittle
so don't plant in an exposed position or they'll break off in
Buy Robinia pseudoacacia Frisia
Cupressus sempervivens "stricta" -
typical narrowly upright pencil thin tree seen all over the Mediterranean
Europe. An evergreen
conifer that proves all conifers are not the bullying lleylandii. Not
quite so happy in this country, so not seen quite so much, it should
be perfectly hardy, needs good drainage and full sunshine.
Buy Italian Cypress
A more reliable alternative
to the above and a very lovely tree in its own right. Again narrowly
upright and this time with a blue-grey tinge to the foliage best brought
out when planted in full sun.
Use either of these trees
effectively in pairs either side of a path or entrance, or use them
as punctuation marks in planting schemes.
Buy Juniperus "skyrocket"
Others: (that don't
fit neatly into the above categories)
Acer cappadocicum "Aureum"
Classic simple maple-shaped
leaves that emerge bright yellow in spring before deepening to green
over the summer and then becoming a vibrant golden colour again in the
autumn. Like Gleditsia and Robinia, instant sunshine and
an excellent foil for darker leaved plants such as those with purple
foliage, grows at about the same speed as the other two, but doesn't
get quite so large.
Cercis siliquastrum - Judas tree
good tree for situations where space is at a premium, as well as not
growing too large, this tree really earns its keep. The Judas tree has
more than one trick up its sleeve. It starts the season off by producing
delicate but abundant clusters of violet flowers that emerge from old
wood and often also on the trunk itself in May. At the end of the season,
the whole tree produces golden autumn leaf colour. Named as it is supposed
to be the tree that Judas Iscariot hung himself from. It is adapted
to hot dry locations and will thrive on difficult chalk or limestone
soils. Height after 10 years: 3m x 3m.
Gleditsia triacanthos "Sunburst" -
brightly leaved tree with feathery foliage composed of small leaflets
either side of the stalk. Golden yellow in the spring keeping a fresh
light or yellow green through the summer. Very striking, and good
as a specimen tree, best in full sun for the brightest colour, though
will tolerate some light shade. The variety "Sunburst" is
the best particularly as it doesn't grow so tall, to about 8m /
30 feet maximum, some may find its yellow foliage rather overpowering
though, another good variety is "Ruby Lace" similarly restrained
in size with dusky dark purple leaves.
Buy Gleditsia / Honey locust
Parrotia persica -
good tree for year round interest, not commonly planted. Equally happy
as a specimen tree, at the back of the border or in a small group. The
braches are elegant and arching with attractive peeling bark as
they get older. Unusual tiny bright red flowers borne in the late winter
on its bare braches. Leaves are rich green and become orange and
red in the autumn. To about 25ft high eventually though usually wider
than it is tall.