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

  • Day Trip by Coach to Kia-Ora Farm and Gardens, Cullompton and National Trust Killerton, Broadclyst

    Kia-Ora Farm’s peaceful ten-acre garden encompasses lawns, lakes and ponds, which, together with extensively-planted borders, a bog garden and mature trees, provide an environment in which nature thrives.

    Famous for its rare trees and shrubs, the garden at National Trust Killerton provides year-round interest. Beside the house, The Admiral’s Lawn is bordered by tender perennials whilst the Terrace Garden includes herbaceous flowering beds and obelisks for annual climbers. In the formal garden, a memorial to Sir Thomas Acland marks his favourite spot overlooking the Devonshire countryside.

    The booking form is available to download here or in hard copy, upon request, from the organiser.

  • Self-drive Visit to Trebartha, near Launceston

    We last enjoyed a visit to Trebartha in 2015 when many changes had taken place, such as the installation of a new hydro-electric plant and the large-scale removal of Rhododendron ponticum. Several years later and the area is gloriously settled. 

    Trebartha is located on the eastern side of Bodmin Moor and its gardens offer both natural and man-made features together with many fine views. Spanning 18 hectares, there is plenty to explore. This will be a full day visit so do bring a picnic lunch!

    Our group will divide into two for different guided walks in the morning and afternoon to view the ponds, cascades and terraces, and we shall stop to admire the beautifully-designed garden at Lemarne that is situated within the estate, en route. 

    The booking form is available to download here or in hard copy, upon request, from the organiser.