Time for Trees

With their stately and permanent qualities, trees enhance a garden in ways that no other plants can – and November is the perfect time to plant one. There is a tree for every situation, even in the tiniest garden.

‘Vertical Space’ is a much-overlooked topic of garden design. We have a tendency to cram our borders with hummocky perennials that grow 50 cms tall, whilst paying no regard to the available space and design potential above. Trees add impact to any planting scheme and there is a tree for every situation, even in the tiniest garden.


At this time of year, crab apples, (Malus) and mountain ash, (Sorbus) come into their own with their brilliant fruits and berries. Varieties of Alder, (Sambucus) also have much to offer. My favourite is Black Lace, with its dark purple, acer-like leaves. Usefully, unlike the acer family, it is happy in full sun. Acers, of course, are famous for their autumnal foliage and some varieties also display colourful stems and bark throughout the winter, as do many of the ornamental cherries, (Prunus). If space is really limited, choose a tree with a weeping form – they are naturally less vigorous.


Trees grown in containers can look spectacular, but remember; a containerised plant is the horticultural equivalent of a pet – it relies on you for nourishment, so be vigilant. Soil-based compost is preferable to peat-based potting compost; it’ll hold on to nutrients for longer and is much heavier than potting compost, so your container is less likely to topple over in windy weather. If your pots are sited in really permanent positions, cut their bases off and stand them directly on the soil. The tree roots will migrate down through the pot and anchor themselves into the open ground, making them more stable and self-sufficient, whilst still retaining the potted appearance.


If you don’t have the room for even the smallest tree, consider planting some vigorous multi-stemmed shrubs. Varieties of Viburnum, Cotinus, Photinia and Cornus give vertical tree-like accents and can be easily pruned to size if they outgrow their allotted spaces. Elaeagnus maculata looks good all year round and has smart two-tone leaves of rich green with a lime stripe. Fuchsia magellanica has purple and scarlet flowers and is often used as landscaping in car parks, (although why people think it’s a good idea to put plants in car parks I’ll never know – oh, don’t get me started!). It’s a testament to this particular fuchsia that it copes with having its roots constricted under tarmac, a regular dousing with grit and salt spray during winter and also survives being reversed over by annoyed drivers as they curse the ridiculous notion of putting a flower bed in a car park. But I digress …


The ‘Alba’ form of magellanica has the palest pink blooms imaginable. Some call the colour “delicate”, others say “wishy-washy” – you decide, but there’s no doubt it’s a hard-working, no-nonsense plant that deserves your consideration.


by Flo Whittaker

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