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What is a tree?
A tree is a plant that grows on a single stem or trunk It offers a certain presence and structure in a garden which cannot be gained from other types of plants. Trees are often thought of as damaging to property but with the right tree in the right place, there should be no problems.


Why have trees in the garden?
Trees have various uses in the garden, and it really depends on the effect you want to create.
You could add multiple trees to create a woodland effect, a single specimen tree grown for its flowers, fruit, leaf or bark colour and texture, or pleached trees for a more formal effect.
One of the most valuable uses is to add shade, which is very welcoming on hot summer days.
From a design perspective, trees also give the benefit of structure in winter and adding height to a garden. They are also useful if you want to screen an ugly view. I have often used trees to screen the view from neighbouring upstairs windows. A row of mixed trees in a larger garden creates seclusion and interest throughout the year.


Some good small trees
I personally think that the best trees are those that offer interest two or three times a year e.g. Betula utilis var. jacquemontii (Himalayan birch) offers catkins in the Spring, attractive foliage in the summer and striking bark which shines out in the Winter.

Trees for interesting flowers as well as fruit include Malus (Crab apple) and Sorbus (Rowan). Some cherries also have interesting bark e.g. Prunus serrula.

Trees grown for their flowers and autumn colour include Prunus (Cherries) and Amelanchier lamarckii.

 Trees for Spring interest include Magnolia, Prunus, Amelanchier and Laburnum x waterii ‘Vossii’.

 A good tree for late interest is Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ which flowers from autumn to spring if the weather is mild.

 For good foliage in a sheltered area choose a Japanese maple e.g. Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’.

Choosing a tree

Although by purchasing a mature tree you will get more of an instant effect, a younger sapling will be able to adapt better to the new site and within 3-4 years will reach the same height as mature plants planted at the same time. They also tend to be more healthy and grow more strongly.

Trees can be purchased as either:

  • Bare root - these have been grown in a field and lifted when required but only between November and March. They develop a good fibrous root system and are often less expensive than container grown trees.
  • Container grown -These are grown in containers and are available up to about 1.6m in height.
  • Containerised - These are field grown trees lifted and potted up for sale. This has the advantage that they can be planted at any time of year.
  • Root-balled - Trees are lifted with a ball of soil around the roots which is then covered in a breathable material like sacking.

Examples of trees

Click on any of the images below to enlarge.
Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is a tree with elegant branching and dark purple palmate foliage which turns red before it drops in the autumn. Acers need to be relatively sheltered as the leaves curl up and go brown in windy situations.
Arbutus unedo f. rubra is an evergreen with strawberry-like fruits in autumn.
Amelanchier lamarckii is a tree of all seasons with white flowers in spring, berries in the autumn and leaves which turn red before they fall in autumn.

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii offers interest two or three times a year: catkins in the spring, attractive foliage in the summer and striking white bark which shines out in the winter.

Cercis siliquastrum has clusters of rose-lilac flowers in May followed by purple seed pods in July.
Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ is a small tree of rounded habit with deep red/purple heart-shaped foliage. 
Cornus contraversa ‘Variegata’ is a conical tree with its branches giving a layered effect. It produces broad clusters of creamy flowers in May and small, black fruits in autumn as the foliage turns purple-red.
Liquidambar styraciflua 'Worplesdon' has a pyramidal habit with maple-like leaves turning yellow to orange and vivid red in autumn.
Magnolia stellata has pure white flowers in spring.
Malus transitoria has single white flowers in spring followed by tiny yellow fruits in autumn. 
Prunus serrula has small white flowers in spring, and foliage turning red/yellow in autumn. Its main feature is its glossy, tactile, coppery-red bark.
Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ is a broad, weeping small tree with creamy white flowers and willow-like silvery grey foliage in spring. Branches are silver grey with good winter interest.

Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’ is a pendulous tree with grey catkins in spring.
Sorbus hupehensis var obtusa has bluish-green leaves with white flowers in spring and pink fruits in autumn.
Tilia cordata ‘Winter orange’ is a small-leaved lime with rich orange twigs all winter.
Trachycarpus fortunei is a hardy exotic looking palm on a tall stem.

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