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Ideal garden trees20 September 2012
When it’s hot, and it still can be well into September, there’s nothing like sitting under, or among trees. Courtyard and urban gardens have long made a feature of compact trees and, with the ranges available now, so can you, regardless of the scale of your outdoor space.
Buying and planting a tree (or trees) is exciting and enjoyable, but it really pays to do some homework first. Trees will set the tone of any garden and each benefit brings with it a ‘flip’ side too. For example, evergreens provide shade and shelter all year round, but will also block out welcome winter sun just when you want it most. You will also need to consider any impacts that a new tree might have on your neighbour’s enjoyment of their property. They are very long-lived too, so if you think about how much consideration goes into what sort of dog to get, then that is the kind of research we are talking here!
Our suggestions this month pull from a wide selection. Prunus (cherry and plum) is a superb choice and popular throughout the country. You can go for the purely ornamental, for example Prunus Shogetsu (a Japanese flowering cherry). This is a great choice where you only have space for a single tree because as well as the spring blossom bonus, it also delivers fabulous bronze leaves that turn fiery in autumn. Another stunner is Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’. This RHS Award of Garden Merit plant is compact (4-8m in height with a spread of 2.5-4 m) and delivers attractive autumn colour. The trick up its sleeve is pale pink, semi-double flowers that open in mild weather between late autumn and early spring.
Prunusalso offers some wonderful edible choices too, and if you add in the options for shaped and trained specimens, you really have a great selection. Fans are superb for clothing bare walls or espaliers trained along wires can act as living fences. Look out for varieties that are disease resistant and self-fertile. Prunus domestica ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’ or Prunus domestica oullins ‘Golden Gage’ fulfil these criteria and bear fruit that can be eaten straight from the tree or used for cooking.
For bigger spaces, bigger trees. Robinia pseudoacacia is pollution tolerant and displays fabulous autumn colour. The flower bonus comes in May/June, depending on local conditions. The Catalpa family offers yet more choices of bigger, yet still compact garden trees. With their large, heart-shaped leaves, Catalpa trees make a statement wherever you plant them. A brilliant example is Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ (another RHS Award of Garden Merit plant). Reaching an ultimate height of between 8 and 12 metres and an eventual spread of over 8m, it isn’t a small tree, but given the space, its form, coupled with its golden yellow leaves is an enduring delight.