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I Like Trees

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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 garden.)

A garden without trees scarcely deserves to be called a garden.
Henry Ellacombe

A man does not plant a tree for himself, he plants it for posterity.
Alexander Smith

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

Buy "Meetings With Remarkable Trees" and other gardening books from
For the tree lover

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.

Appropriate size.  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.

Find more trees

Wild types

   Young silver birch trees Birches - Betula spp.

Plant birches in groups of 3 for maximum effectThe 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 called the 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

Initially 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 wide.
Buy Crataegus / Hawthorn

    Sorbus spp. - Rowans and Whitebeams

Sobus "Joseph Rock"Rowans have pinnate leaves (small leaflets coming from a central part (rachis) which tend to cast less shadow than whitebeams which have simple leaves.

Sorbus hupehensis (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

Cottage Garden


A 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 trees.

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.

I'm deliberately 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;

Rootstock        Fertilization requirements

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

Malus x robusta "Red Sentinel"Domed 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

Lilac "Madame lemoine"Lilac "Katherine Havemeyer"Strictly 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 year.

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. - Holly

Useful 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 situation however;

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.
One of 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 Maples

Maples are excellent for autumn colourThe 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 leaves.
Buy Japanese maples / Acers

   Prunus spp. - Flowering cherries

Spring 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.

Prunus "Amanagawa" - 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"

Robinia "Frisia" leavesFairly 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 storms.
Buy Robinia pseudoacacia Frisia


    Cupressus sempervivens "stricta" - Italian Cypress

Italian cypressThe typical narrowly upright pencil thin tree seen all over the Mediterranean and Southern

 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

    Juniperus scopulurum "Skyrocket"

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

Cercis siliquastrum - Judas treeA 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" - Honey locust

Gleditsia "sunburst"Gleditsia "Ruby lace"A 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 - Persian Ironwood

Parrotia - Persian ironwood in autumn foliageA 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.

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