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

  • Self-drive visit to Kestle Barton, Manaccan; The Potager, High Cross, Constantine and Tregonning, Carleen, Breage

    Self-drive visit to Kestle Barton, Manaccan; The Potager, High Cross, Constantine and Tregonning, Carleen, Breage

    Run by Karen Townsend and Ryya Bread, Kestle Barton is a restored ancient farmstead and gallery above Frenchman’s Creek. The garden was created in the south-facing mowhay by James Alexander-Sinclair whose plantsman’s scheme of gauzy swathes of herbaceous plants and sweeping grasses surround a space for sitting and dreaming. Beyond is the meadow with its ever-changing carpet of wild flowers and adjacent orchard.

    During lunch at The Potager, Mark Harris will describe how this charming haven emerged from a bramble-choked wilderness.

    Andrew and Kathryn Eaton’s sculpted grass meadow at Tregonning takes in panoramic views from Carn Brea to Helston. There are leaf-shaped beds, a stream and pond, a summerhouse, carp pond, fernery and packed vegetable garden.

    To download a booking form for this self-drive visit, please click here.

  • Day trip by coach to Durslade Farm Garden and Gallery, Bruton and National Trust Barrington Court, Ilminster, Somerset

    At the home of Hauser & Wirth, we will enjoy a tour of the Gallery and Piet Oudolf’s wonderful perennial meadow where 17 beds of naturalistic European plants are divided by grass walkways. There is a feeling of relaxed freedom as the garden links to the green landscape beyond. Bold groups of carefully chosen perennials provide endless interest.

    The garden at National Trust Barrington Court was created by Colonel Arthur Lyle where he followed a layout and planting scheme suggested by Gertrude Jekyll. Various walled gardens contain iris, roses and lilies. The kitchen garden has been in continuous production for more than 90 years.

    Our booking form will be available in March.