With encouragement from the Government and countryside organisations such as the RHS and NT there is an increasing interest in planting trees and the benefits to the environment of doing so. While most of these reported on are on a large scale, if chosen correctly there are some wonderful ornamental and fruitful trees for even the smallest garden.
Our garden is approximately 125ft by 45 and within it we have 12 ornamental and 12 fruit trees.
One favourite, Acers can be grown in a pot for many years. They will grow in any reasonable soil although they do prefer soil on the acid side which can be achieved by mixing some ericaceous compost in the pot or planting hole. You can purchase simple soil test kits to find out if you have acid or alkaline soil.
We have several Acers in our garden, Acer griseum is a special one. It looks wonderful with the winter sun shining through its peeling cinnamon-like bark.
In the oriental garden, a favourite one is Acer Negundo Flamingo, its variegated leaves consisting of green centres splashed at the edges with salmon pink, which later turn cream. The trunk of this tree is now four foot tall, the branches above this are pollarded in January to help keep it compact along with preventing it from reverting to all green leaves.
Also in the Oriental garden is the Ginkgo biloba it’s autumn foliage turning a deep saffron yellow. It is a member of a very old genus, with some fossilised leaves found dating back 200 million years. They can grow up to 100 ft tall, I purchased a young 4 ft one which I prune in January to keep it as a column shape.
The Sorbus family is worth considering, Sorbus Eastern Promise is a lovely small tree, perfect for the small garden, its dark green leaves turn deep purple and orange before falling onto our garden during the autumn.
Sorbus Olympic Flame is one to seek out, it is a small, highly colourful Japanese Rowan tree with a columnar habit distinctive for its large foliage that starts coppery in the spring before turning green in summer and fiery red come autumn.
You cannot mention autumn colour without considering the Liquidambar we have Liquidambar slyraciflua ‘Stella’.
One in our neighbour’s garden is particularly stunning in the autumn, always turning colour before ours. This will eventually become a large tree, fortunately it is slow-growing.
Spring colour can be provided by the magnolia family, ‘Lennei’ with its pink-white flowers can grow to 20ft without pruning. A more compact variety is Magnolia stellata.
There is a wide selection of ornamental Cherry trees for the garden. This unknown one in our garden is loved by the honey bees.
Although normally associated with spring blossom, there is Prunus Autumnalis, an Autumn-Winter flowering cherry with white blossom. It is a small tree, suitable for most small gardens. Choose a variety with a single rather than a double flower for the pollinators.
I call Prunus serrula our Champion Tree, it is grown for its wonderful mahogany bark although its delicate flowers are loved by honey bees.
The Silver Birch Betula jacquemontii is considered the best for white bark. With its upright habit it can be grown as a single or multi-stemmed feature. It can reach 4metres within ten years when some carful pruning will be required if you need to control its eventual height and shape.
I think the first choice of tree for any small garden should be fruit trees. The modern grafted Apple tree is well suited to any size garden. We have in our garden Malus ‘Blenheim Orange’, ‘Grenadier’, ‘Hereford Russett’, ‘Kidd’s Orange Red’, ‘Rosette’ and of course Worcester Pearmain’. We also have the Cherry ‘Sunburst’, the Pear ‘Invincible’, Plums ‘Opal’, Victoria the ‘Cambridge Greengage’ and the Crab Apple ‘Golden Hornet’ trained as a globe.
The smallest of the trained fruit tree are the step-over apple trees, 18 inches to 2ft tall with a level side branch trained each side, you can literally step over them. They are very productive, often found in French Potagers and are excellent for edging a vegetable border or herb garden. Apples, pears and cherries can be decoratively trained into fan shapes, espaliers and cordons. Plums can be trained as a fan. Ensure it is grown on a ‘Pixy’ rootstock or it will be too vigorous. Plums should not be pruned during winter because silver-leaf and canker can enter through the cuts. Young trees can be trained in the spring with more established ones in the summer.
You can purchase any of these already trained, although expensive you are buying time. Alternatively, you can buy much cheaper bare-root two-year-old whips during the winter.
While many people find pruning daunting it is very rewarding to see a trained fruit tree in blossom knowing there is fruit to follow. I would recommend obtaining a copy of the RHS book Pruning and Training it covers everything from trees to shrubs, climbers, roses, soft fruit and tree fruits.
When visiting gardens and nurseries look out for some of those mentioned above and talk to garden owners. It is worth taking your time before buying a tree as it is a worthwhile, long term investment but can be an expensive mistake to rectify.
The wildlife enjoy the trees all year as a safe landing area before visiting the bird feeders or as a source of food. You see them feeding on the insects hiding in the trees during the spring and summer or the fruits during winter.