Suggestions from talk “For the love of trees” by Mary Keenan, Gash Gardens, Co. Laois
Acer griseum – paperbark maple
One of the finest small trees for any garden. Slow growing to around 5m . Bark is rich, warm mahogany and peels away in papery tatters that show brilliant orange against the sun, revealing smooth, cinnamon-coloured new bark underneath. Dark green leaves turn vivid, fiery scarlet in autumn. Can be sourced as a single trunk or multi-stemmed specimen. Grown from seed and so quality of peeling bark can vary – make sure that peeling effect is visible before purchasing.
Acer davidii ‘Serpentine’,Acer pensylvanicum – snakebark maples
All snakebark maples have handsomely striped barks – most are green and conspicuously streaked with silver to look just like a snakeskin. Most assume rich autumn leaf colour in attractive shades of orange, yellow and red and make interesting multi-stemmed trees, reaching up to 6m after 20 years
Acer palmatum cultivars – Japanese maples
Various small, slow-growing varieties available. Grow them in a sheltered spot, out of direct sun. May be crown-lifted by removing lower branches to from canopy and create space beneath. One of the most attractive is a purple-leaved form Acer palmatum “Bloodgood”. Also desirable is Acer shirasawanum “Aureum”. It eventually grows to around 4m tall. In spring, the golden-yellow, palm-like leaves open out from pinkish-red sheaths like elegantly pleated fans.
Acer platanoides ‘Globosum’
Contributes striking architectural impact in an area where space is limited. Normally top grafted at around 2m, the branches form a dense, globe-shaped head. Resembles a lollipop on a stick. Excellent yellow and orange autumn colour.
Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brilliantissimum’
Leaves unfold in spring in the most amazing shade of shrimp pink, gradually toning down to yellowish-green. Look for a top grafted specimen to limit eventual size. Forms a neat and dense, dome-shaped canopy.
Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’ – alder-leaved serviceberry
Conspicuously columnar, small tree reaching up to around 3.5 m. Adds ‘height interest’ in a garden without occupying a lot of space. Good autumn colour, Fragrant, white blossom in spring followed by red, edible berries which mature to black in June. Its skeleton provides a striking shape during the winter when branches are bare.
Amelanchier lamarckii- snowy mespilus
In spring, clouds of starry white flowers are enhanced by the unfolding leaves, tinged with coppery pink. Leaves fade from dark green to gold in autumn. Eventual height around 5m.
Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Ballerina’
Foliage unfurls attractive bronze colour in spring, turning dark green in summer and taking on striking reddish-purple colours in autumn. Broad, vase-shaped crown and fine branching pattern create a striking winter silhouette. Star-shaped, white flowers borne in large, loose, pendulous flower clusters in spring. Followed by small red berries which can be eaten and are very popular with birds. Height 4m.
Arbutus unedo – strawberry tree
Native evergreen that starts life more as a shrub but in time will grow into an attractive multi-stem specimen rarely more than 7m high. Can be crown lifted to improve its appearance. Against a backdrop of glossy, dark green leaves, bright red shoots and rough, reddish-brown bark, it produces pendant clusters of white, lantern-like flowers and bright orange, strawberry-like fruits at the same time during autumn and into winter. Given a sheltered position, it is hardy in all but the coldest locations. Prefers neutral to acid soil
Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’
Grown for its beautiful, heart-shaped, purple leaves. In spring, bright pink pea-like blossom borne on the bare branches – needs a warm, sunny position to flower well. Forms a small multi-stemmed tree with a bushy habit.
Cercis siliquastrum- Judas tree
In May, the naked branches are studded with clusters of bright, rose-purple, pea-like flowers. Leaves colour copper yellow in autumn. Thrives and flowers best in full sun.
Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’- wedding cake tree
Distinctive horizontal branches dramatically arranged in tiers. Leaves are pale green with an irregular creamy white margin and flattened heads of tiny, creamy white flowers are produced in June. Position where there will not be a future requirement to prune or shape will be compromised.
Cornus kousa var. chinensis – Japanese dogwood
In early summer, masses of tiny green flowers are surrounded by conspicuous creamy-white, petal-like bracts that fade to lovely shades of pink as they age. When autumn arrives, the foliage turns a vibrant shade of crimson alongside the knobbly, strawberry-like red fruits. Small, bushy, multi-stemmed tree to around 3.5m. Many other forms of C. kousa also available.
Cornus mas – cornelian cherry
Multi-stemmed small tree. Bare branches are smothered in tiny, mustard yellow blooms in January and February. Remove lower branches as it matures to form canopy.
Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’
Double-flowered variety of ornamental hawthorn with rich, rosy red flowers in May.
Crataegus orientalis – eastern thorn
In small gardens, it is particularly useful to purchase plants with more than one season of interest, to make the most of the space – this tree fits the bill perfectly. In May, clusters of chalk white flowers are produced against a backdrop of deeply cut, downy, grey-green leaves followed in autumn by large haws in shades of warm amber and deep orange. Eventually forms a rounded crown, wider than tall, reaching about 4m in height.
A valuable evergreen tree that smothers itself in large, honey-scented, white flowers throughout late summer and autumn. Glossy, dark green, rather leathery leaves. Forms a neat, columnar tree. For best performance, ensure it has shelter from cold winds and a neutral to acid soil.
Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ – spindle
Cultivated form of our native spindle tree. Prized for its autumn leaf colour when laves turn glowing crimson. Small, relatively insignificant yellow flowers in early summer lead on to bright pinky-red ornamental fruits that peel open to reveal orange seeds inside.
Somewhat inconspicuous during spring and summer but makes show-stopping impact in autumn when its handsome pinnate leaves change to flaming scarlet. and masses of large seed capsules appear in a striking colour combination of crimson-pink and orange. Slow growing at first, but eventually matures into a small tree of vase-shaped habit.
Espalier apple trees
To make the best use of space, grow an espalier apple tree. Plant against a warm, sunny wall or use as a garden divider. Reliable fruit supply, great spring blossom, and a compact clematis can even be grown up through it.
Halesia monticola – snowdrop tree
Seldom reaches more than 6m in height and, with a broadly conic crown. Creamy-white, snowdrop-shaped flowers hang from long stalks all along the branches and make a glorious sight with the newly flushing leaves in late spring.
Hoheria sexstylosa- ribbonwood or lacebark
An unusual evergreen tree of upright, columnar habit. Usually seen as a multi-stemmed specimen up to 6m tall. Leaves are glossy green and in late July and August, the whole canopy is flooded with small, white, starry flowers. Prefers a moist, neutral to acid soil and ideal for a shaded garden.
Koelreuteria paniculata – golden rain tree
Rarely seen, this is a small and rather slow-growing tree with large and elegant, pinnate leaves that colour well in autumn and lend the tree a subtropical look. On established trees, upright panicles of small, yellow, scented flowers are produced and followed by conspicuous, papery, lantern-like seed capsules. Rarely grows above 8m and then only after many years.
Laburnum x watereri “Vossii”
One of the best flowering forms producing long cascades of golden yellow flowers during early summer. Small tree with compact habit or train it on an arch or pergola. Caution – while this variety produces very few seed pods, the seeds are poisonous, so it should not be grown if you have young children who may eat them.
Ilex sp.- holly
Hollies are useful for their evergreen foliage, long persisting berries and especially for the ease with which they can be clipped to hold a shape. Usually seen as shrubs but if trained to a single leader many will grow into small trees Plants are either male or female and therefore both must be planted to ensure that the female produces berries. For a confined space, choose Ilex aquifolium “Pyramidalis” which has attractive, glossy green leaves and an interesting shape. It’s also self-fertile.
Luma apiculata- myrtle
Small, evergreen tree often with multiple trunks. As it matures, the cinnamon-coloured outer bark peels off in patches exposing the cream-coloured inner surface. Small, oval leaves are dark green and dainty white flowers adorn the branches in late summer and autumn. Best in mild locations.
Numerous species and cultivars to chose from. Most prefer neutral to acid soil, but some are remarkably lime tolerant. Can be crown-lifted to form canopy and create space beneath. Good choices for small gardens include M. stellata – starry white flowers’; M. x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ – pale pink blooms; M. ’Genie’- dark, burgundy-red goblet-shaped flowers
Malus sp.- flowering crab apple
Ornamental crab apples are great all-rounders for the small garden, with attractive spring blossom, colourful fruit and plenty of food for wildlife. Most reach a height of 4-5m. Make good pollination partners for culinary apple trees.
Bronze-green foliage. Wine-red flowers in spring and early summer. Prolific large dark red fruit, excellent for crabapple jelly.
Malus ‘Golden Hornet’
One of the showiest yellow-fruited crab apples with a plentiful and long-lasting display of bright yellow, bauble-like fruits and masses of pink-budded, white flowers in spring.
Prized for its rich, purple-tinted leaves and abundance of large, purplish-red, flowers. Followed by very dark red, cherry-like fruits that mature in autumn and are popular with wildlife.
In late spring, just as the new leaves emerge, branches are festooned with pendulous clusters of bright, golden yellow flowers. Seed pods which follow look like dangling rows of beads. Valued also for its dainty, rounded pinnate leaves. If you can find a warm sunny spot for this treasure you will not be disappointed. Grows up to around 6m.
Sorbus sp.- rowan
Most rowans have pretty, pinnate leaves, complemented by spring flowers and autumn berries. Excellent trees to grow for garden birds such as robins, blackbirds and thrushes, which love the nutrient-rich berries. Bees and other pollinating insects are attracted to the hanging clusters of small, creamy-white flowers in early summer.
Sorbus cashmiriana- Kashmir rowan
Very large glistening white fruits are particularly eye-catching feature. Pale pink spring flowers. Height 5m.
Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’
If you want berries to remain untouched by birds and last into winter, opt for yellow-berried varieties like ‘Joseph Rock’. Birds tend to prefer red and orange fruits. With ascending branches and a narrowly pyramidal growth habit, this lovely, compact tree matures to a height of about 6m. Leaves turn fiery orange, red and purple in autumn.
Rarely grows more than 5m tall, with very dainty, fern-like leaves. Clusters of white flowers in early summer give way to pendulous bunches of small, round berries that gradually change from rosy red at first, through every shade of pink. to white. Leaves turn crimson in autumn.
Handsome deciduous, multi-stemmed tree with white, camellia-like flowers that are a magnet for bees. Colourful bark that exfoliates in strips of gray, orange, and reddish brown once trunk begins to mature. It can reach 8m in height. Prefers neutral to acid soil.
Styrax japonica- Japanese snowbell
An uncommon small tree, best placed where the dainty, bell-shaped, fragrant, white flowers can be admired from beneath. Needs a moist, neutral to acid soil and is ideal for a shaded garden. Look out for a gorgeous delicate pink flowering form ‘Pink Chimes’.
Trained to form a single trunk it will form and upright, pyramidal to oval growth habit. Large clusters of fragrant, creamy-white flowers in early summer.
Prunus sp.- ornamental cherries
Several ornamental cherries are perfect trees for small gardens but plant them out of the way of paved surfaces as their shallow roots can cause lifting and cracking of paved and concrete surfaces. Blossom may be fleeting but while it lasts it is superb and many forms offer a bonus of autumn leaf colour. Pollinators favour simple, single-flowered types.
An outstanding early performer bearing masses of rosy-pink, semi-double flowers. It grows into a small, arching tree up to 5m high.
Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’
In early spring, the bare branches are bedecked in a profusion of blush pink, single flowers. These are followed by dark purple leaves for the rest of the year and are useful to relieve the predominance of green in the garden, although dark foliage can sometimes appear oppressive in small spaces.
Prunus padus ‘Watererii’- bird cherry
Broadly conical growth habit to around 7m. Racemes of small, almond scented flowers in spring followed by small black fruits in autumn.
Distinctive horizontally spreading branches form a broad spreading. flat-topped canopy. Clusters of large, semi-double white flowers in spring. Leaves turn orange red in autumn. Height 5m.
Prunus ‘Snow Goose’
Narrow, upright tree, widening slightly with age, with large, white, single flowers appearing before the leaves. Will grow to height and spread of around 4 x 2 metres in 20 years. Displays all the beautiful features of the Prunus family without taking up as much space. Leaves take on tints of bronze and red in autumn.
Prunus x subhirtella “Autumnalis Rosea”
Not be as flamboyant as the spring-flowering cherries but provides welcome display throughout winter and early spring when the bare twigs are sprinkled
with pinkish white, semi-double flowers like dainty snowflakes over prolonged period.
Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’- weeping pear
Narrow, silvery foliage and slender weeping branches. Creamy-white, sweetly scented blossom appears in spring. Likes a sunny spot. Weeping trees are useful in small gardens bounded by high walls as their pendulous branches draw the eye downwards to focus attention on ground level details and distract from the dominance of the walls in such situations.
Thuja occidentalis ‘Smargd’
Remarkably upright-growing conifer that forms a narrow pyramidal shape with bright green, sweetly scented, evergreen foliage. No pruning or shaping necessary to maintain distinctive shape. Creates a strong focal point and, in a small garden, its upright habit serves to draw the eye upwards creating the illusion of more space by emphasising the vertical dimension
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