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.
Our members have some truly beautiful and interesting gardens. Take a look to see some of the wonderful things growing.
You can take out CGS membership as an individual or as a family and there are lots of benefits.
Christine, Lady Skelmersdale has been a passionate gardener since childhood. She has run bulb specialists, Broadleigh Gardens in Somerset for 45 years; holds the National Collection® of Alec Gray CVS daffodils and has exhibited extensively at RHS Chelsea.
Christine has also been a member of the RHS Council for 12 years; President of the Friends of the Bristol Botanic Garden for seven years and Garden Advisor for RHS Garden, Rosemoor for 12 years. She was also Chairman of the 2012-15 RHS trial of drumstick alliums.
A regular contributor to RHS The Garden magazine, Christine is also the author of two books: Creative Gardening with Bulbs and A Gardener’s Guide to Bulbs.
In 2009, Christine was presented with the Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH) – the RHS’s highest award for services to horticulture.
Join us on Tuesday 11th February at 7.30pm at The Alverton, Tregolls Road, Truro
Lady Skelmersdale will join us on Wednesday 12th February at 2.30pm at St Mellion International Resort, Saltash where she shares her lecture ‘Beat the Drum’