Branching out into small spaces

The Sorbus Autumn Spire.
The Sorbus Autumn Spire.
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If any of you think that you can only plant a tree if you have a large garden, think again.

There’s a plethora of trees out there, which are compact, but look amazing as stand-alone features in a small space, providing colour, texture and form to a smaller garden.

A close-up of the leaves on a Acer palmatum.

A close-up of the leaves on a Acer palmatum.

So don’t delay, do your bit for National Tree Week, the UK’s largest tree festival, and plant a tree which won’t take up too much of your garden space, but will make a spectacular difference. Here are some of the best:

Amelanchier: These unsung heroes have started to become popular at the large horticultural shows in recent years and among the most gorgeous is A. x grandiflora ‘Ballerina’, which produces profuse white spring flowers before the bronze tinted young leaves emerge. A. lamarckii, the snowy mespilus, is often grown as a multi-stemmed type but can be trained as a light standard. Its elegant branches carry copper-coloured leaves in spring at the same time as starry white flowers, while in autumn the small oval leaves colour brilliantly.

Japanese Flowering Cherry (Prunus Shogetsu): This is a stunning stand-alone specimen which enjoys a long season of interest, from its spring blossom of double pink-and-white flowers to its bronze leaves which turn fiery red throughout autumn. It prefers a sunny spot with moist, well-drained soil. The blossom on flowering cherries can be a fleeting delight, but the slim, upright Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ is ideal for a narrow garden, which takes up little space and is adorned with double pale pink flowers in mid spring.

Flowering dogwood: These are ideal small trees if you have neutral to acid soil. Among the finest of the conical types is Cornus florida f. rubra, which bears beautiful pink blooms in early summer followed by rich autumn leaves. Other showstoppers include C. florida ‘Cherokee Chief’, which produces deep rose-red bracts, and C. ‘Porlock’, which displays flame-coloured autumn hues on some of its leaves enhanced by the profusion of strawberry-like fruits which hang from the branches. Flowering dogwoods do best in well-drained but fertile soil rich in organic matter.

A close-up of the Acer pal Atropurpureum.

A close-up of the Acer pal Atropurpureum.

Acer palmatum: The amazing autumnal foliage of the Japanese maple, along with its elegant architectural structure, cannot fail to impress and there are plenty of compact types which are suitable for the small garden, whether planted in the ground or in large pots. Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ will be as at home in both, its rich red-purple foliage providing a striking contrast to other plants from spring through to autumn. If you want a variety which will hang gracefully over water, go for A. palmatum var. dissectum, a type with finely cut foliage which is broader spreading, growing 2m high by 3m wide. Acers generally prefer slightly acid soil, so if you are planting them in a pot add some ericaceous compost. They are slow-growing and if you plant them in pots their growth will be slower still.

Sorbus: Also known as rowans, these trees are among the best for a small garden, providing white spring flowers, masses of autumn berries and divided foliage which often changes colour in autumn. S. aucuparia ‘Fastigiata’ has a tight, tidy shape and offers white flowers followed by deep red berries and brilliant autumn foliage, while S. ‘Joseph Rock’ produces yellow fruits and fiery-red and orange foliage in autumn. These trees are ideal for urban gardens as they are pollution tolerant and will withstand extremes of heat and cold. They prefer fertile, non-chalky soil in sun or light shade.

The Tree Council, the charity which organises National Tree Week, advises those buying a tree to check that it has been grown in the UK.

Pauline Buchanan Black, director of the charity, says: To continue enjoying trees, we need to lessen the risk of new tree diseases being imported on plants that have been grown in other countries.

Acer palmatum.

Acer palmatum.

“If everyone buying a tree makes a point of asking the nursery or garden centre for stock that’s been produced within the UK, the message will be heard. This way, we can reduce the likelihood of scourges like ash dieback infecting another of our favourite landscape trees.”

National Tree Week runs from Nov 28-Dec 6. For details, visit www.treecouncil.org.uk