How to Choose a Tree for the Small Garden

Modern gardens are small, smaller and diminuitive.  Let’s start  with the largest of the small;   an imaginary plot of, say, 10 metres by 10 metres.    Smaller and diminuitive will get their turn in future blogs.

So how to choose?  Shape.  Start with the the skeletal shape of the tree.  Nudity really counts – it lasts for 5 months.  Leafed up,  this clothed shape then becomes form.    Under which tree would you spread a picnic?

And then there is size:   being small enough in ultimate size.   There is no room here for the mighty swags of parkland deodars or the oak tree of desire.  I have short-listed the following nine as appropriate as a single specimen in our imaginary small garden.

1.  Catalpa bignonioides. The Indian bean tree to you and me.  It grows fantastic seed pods and has large yellow droopy soup-plate leaves. It makes an elegant open shape.

2. Next is Cercis siliiquastrum, the Judas tree.   Overlook the obvious bad vibe of the name association and marvel at the intense pink flowers that break out on bare wood in spring.  I would go for a specimen that has multiple stems.  This will grow into something you imagined you left behind in your last Greek dream.

3. Lovely Prunus serrula ‘Tibetica’ has a red polished bark with stripes.  It will glow in low winter light.  The habit – a child’s drawing of a tree and  it comes with spring blossom too.

4. Fagus sylvatica ‘Rohanii’ – if you cannot assuage childhood desires of a proper tree, plant this.  A beech, purpled leaved and won’t grow to more than 7 metres.  Unusual too (available from www.barcham.co.uk)

5 No list would be complete without a magnolia.  Magnolia x soulangeana doesn’t grow too big.  Mature branches sprawl like a languid aesthete on a chaise -longue, leaves are intensely green and the  blossom:  jaw dropping.

6 Mespilus germanica.  The medlar is  like certain sort of dogs that or so ugly that they appeal.  On this canine riff, weird dog’s bottom fruit  make it distinctive.    Don’t be put off.  It is an ancient plant, in cultivation for over 3000 years

7. Morus nigra is the black mulberry.  A tree with  pale green heart shaped leaves and fruit of searing sharp tastiness.  Do not plant where you intend to picnic in white suits.

8.The Mount Etna broom, Genista aetnensis, will grow into a whiskery horsetail of a tree with incredible scented yellow pea flowers.  Its form means that it does not  cast much shade.

9.Crateagus persimilis ‘Prunifolia’ is  a hawthorn, known as the cockspur thorn. Of all in the list, it is less exotic but is still quietly stunning.  Autumn leaves colour up  orang-ecopper and  the fruits are large, juicy and waxy red.

Take the list and look up the plants on google image to  give you some sort of a snapshot.  Then go to a botanical collection and stride about.  Failing that find a  good tree nursery near you.   Research before choosing and always check the soil requirements.

You probably have room for only one so greed is out. Pare and pare away at the list to get to the final candidate.