Choosing trees for a small garden by Endeavour

For a small garden, trees have to be chosen with great care if they are not to cause problems by overshadowing or eventually growing out of scale with the plot.  We all want to create an immediate effect and too often we select something which is inappropriate.

Dwarf conifers provide a foliage effect which extends throughout the year, but real dwarfs take several seasons to reach any size.  If they look good at planting they soon outgrow their station.

A group of small deciduous trees which usually remains in scale and suits our wet climate belong to the genus Sorbus.  It contains two principal groups: the Whitebeams with simple leaves and the Mountain Ashes with pinnate leaves.  Most are of modest size, never look scruffy, their neat appearance suiting the tidy gardener, bearing white flowers in spring and berries of varying colours and leaf colouring in the autumn.  They are not greedy and don’t cast a dense shade – allowing suitable planting beneath or equally suitable as a specimen on a lawn.

The Mountain Ash group includes several which are suitable, the tiny leaflets creating a lightness of texture and next to no problem at leaf drop.  This is a considerable advantage, especially in a wet autumn when large leaves falling and lodging on lawns and low growing plants are problematic.

My favourite is Sorbus vilmorinii, its numerous (up to 14) pairs of leaflets, dark green and closely set, give a fern like effect.  Small white flowers are followed by berries: green at first followed by red, through pink to pinkish white.  These continue to hang on the bare branches after the leaves have dropped, which turn a vinous red in a good year.

Similar effect is produced by Sorbus prattii, whose fruits are pearly white and the autumn foliage a purple bronze.  The bare branches are particularly attractive being rusty, hairy and with pointed buds.

Of upright habit is Sorbus commixta with elegant foliage, bronzy when young.  Large clusters of orange red fruits are produced.  Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ may grow a little larger, has very good autumn colours with creamy amber fruits.  A great pleasure to me is looking down from the bathroom window whilst shaving in the morning and watching a blackbird feeding on these berries.

Sorbus hupehensis has long, drooping leaves that open copper coloured but become a silver shade.  The fruits persist for a long time and are ignored by birds even in hard winters.  Hanging in clusters on rhubarb red stalks, they are porcelain white with pink tips.

These smaller varieties, together with larger ones, are worth their place in large gardens also.  Most of the simple leaved group are perhaps too large for the smallest gardens but one species, Sorbus folgneri, especially the selection ‘Lemon Drop’ is a delightful choice.  The spreading or pendulous branches are covered with a dense white fleece, at first becoming smooth and purplish brown as the wood matures.  The autumn colouring is spectacular, orange and scarlet with a dazzling silver underneath and bunches of yellow berries to follow.

Be assured none will disappoint.

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Upcoming Events

  • The Garden House in Buckland Monachorum invites you to enjoy an early taste of spring

    Whilst the chill winds and lashing rain of mid-winter do their worst out there, let us cheer ourselves up.

    The Garden House, Devon invites you to discover its sumptuous collection of snowdrops and enjoy the early signs of spring between 11am and 3pm on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th January, and every weekend during February (when its tea-room also reopens). The snowdrops - amassed by co-author of Snowdrops: A monograph of cultivated galanthus, Matt Bishop - are displayed and labelled in herbaceous borders and naturalised with other early flowering bulbs throughout the ten acre, sheltered garden that is maintained and developed by The Fortescue Garden Trust.

    Adults: £5. Children Free. For further information, visit www.thegardenhouse.org.uk

  • Lecture

    7.30pm - The Alverton, Tregolls Road, Truro

    Andy McIndoe - The Creative Shrub Garden

    Andy has more than 40 years' experience in retail and production horticulture. He has been responsible for 25 consecutive Gold Medal winning exhibits at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for Hilliers Nursery where he was Managing Director. Andy's special interests include hardy shrubs, trees, herbaceous perennials, flower bulbs and garden design. He was awarded the prestigious Veitch Memorial Medal by the RHS in 2017 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the science and practice of horticulture.