Wereham Sign Gary Trouton

Passionate About Plants

May 2008

Paul gives some sound advice for readers wishing to plant trees in their garden.

Choosing a Tree for your Garden

Trees are a great asset to your garden, but as gardens have generally got smaller it is more important to choose wisely. There are many benefits of having trees in your garden not only do they give a focal point to the garden design, they increase the number of wildlife visitors, give shade in the hot summers! And herald the changing of the seasons.

The size of your garden will determine the number and ultimate size of the trees you can plant. If we consider the modern garden you will have room for at least one small tree and possibly a group of three. Obviously in small gardens the slow growing large forest trees like Oak, Ash, Beech etc are highly unsuitable, although there are a few small growing ornamental cultivars of these varieties but they can be difficult to obtain.

However, with such a diversity of size shape and effect, somewhere there exists a tree to suit most if not all tastes and situations, there are trees that are suitable for even the smallest gardens and it should not be necessary to deform a tree by drastic pruning and lopping to make it conform. Planting a tree which when mature, will be too large for its position, is all to common these days nor is it a recent problem, a tour of small gardens on any established housing estate will reveal examples of trees planted without any thought of the future. I have often been consulted for advice on the choice of a suitable tree only to be assailed with the remark: "I know it will be to big eventually but then it will be someone else's problem".

How fast will it grow? and how big will it be eventually? are two of the first things people want to know about a tree they are considering planting, these are quite naturally important considerations. However, unlike manufactured articles, trees cannot be made to measure and due to a variety of reason such as soil, aspect, rainfall, etc, trees, even those of the same species do not always behave in the same way or grow at the same speed. I would consider a small tree would get to an eventual size of 3 - 10 metres under average growing conditions and a very small tree would grow under 3 metres. Habit or shape is also very important in choosing your tree there are generally five basic shapes, Spreading, Conical, Broadly Columnar, Columnar (fastigiated) and Weeping.

The following are a few of my favourite small trees:

Acer griseum - few ornamental trees arouse as much interest as this lovely Chinese 'paper bark maple' the orange brown old bark on the trunk and main branches peels prettily to reveal the cinnamon coloured new bark, in autumn the leaves turn vivid scarlet and flame when the whole tree glows like a bonfire, it is a very slow grower.

Acer capillipes - Green and silver striped bark with arching branches. The leaves which turn orange and red in autumn are a feature of this snake bark maple.

Arbutus unedo - The Strawberry tree is usually seen as a rugged picturesque tree with shreddy brown bark, the white bell shaped flowers are produced during late autumn when the small strawberry like fruits of the previous year are turning to red, a useful evergreen tree.

Prunus x hillieri "Spire" - probably one of the best small trees raised this century, its shape makes it ideally suited to small gardens and confined space. The soft pink flowers crowd the branches in April, while in autumn the leaves turn a rich red.

Prunu subhirtella "Autumnalis" - The small semi double white or pink flowers first appear in November and continue to open during mild spells to the end of March, like most winter blooming plants it is useful for cutting and bring into the home.

Sorbus vilmorinii - this charming small to very small tree has a graceful habit and is highly suitable for the small garden, the slender arching branches bear clusters of small fern like leaves which turn a shade of purple and red in autumn. The drooping small rounded berries in autumn are glossy red at first slowly changing to pink then white they are long lasting and decorate the naked branches after leaf fall. This mountain ash is yet another desirable native of western China.

The above is only a small selection from my favourite tree list. When you have decided you are going to plant a tree the best advice I can give you is to research the many species and varieties in a good tree book, then go to your nurseryman with a list and ask his advice with regard to the rate of growth and suitability.

We are always happy to give advice and look forward to seeing you at the nursery in Wereham.

Happy gardening,

Quaymount Nurseries,


01366 500691.

Paul Markwell

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