Trees For Your Garden

The Tree Council agrees, as November 29th sees the start of National Tree Week.

Top Trees for Small Gardens

Everything has to work harder for its keep in a smaller garden, so more than one season of interest is an important consideration. Eventual height is also important so the tree doesn’t dominate the garden too much. Here’s a selection of trees which work well in a smaller plot.

Readers from last month know I’m a huge fan of apples trees. They have a long season of interest, the rootstock can be varied to control the tree’s height and you get fruit, so what’s not to like? If a choice culinary apple is not to your taste, then a crab apple such as Malus ‘Evereste’ is a possible alternative.

I also love Acers because their autumn colour is so intense and a variety of sizes are available to suit any plot. I’ve grown an Acer palmatum var. dissectum in a pot for over 25 years with little complaint from the tree. An added bonus is it looks like a larger version of bonsai, so its shape makes for year-round garden interest. For a medium sized tree (around 30ft) Acer griseum with its cinnamon-like peeling bark is hard to beat.

I have a former hedgerow next to my garden and I particularly enjoy watching the birds strip the berries from the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) during the winter. This is a native tree, so it supports a wide variety of insects (around 300), including the hawthorn shield bug and the caterpillar of the hawthorn moth. It can be grown as a specimen tree, where its gnarled habit often makes for interesting shapes, particularly if it is crown-lifted. The Midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) has pink blossom instead of the usual white and ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ makes a particularly fine specimen.

The serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora) is much more elegant than its common name suggests. It has beautiful white blossom in the spring, followed by purplish fruits and good autumn leaf colour. The birds like the fruits, so it’s another good tree for encouraging wildlife. This is the smallest tree of my recommendations, with ‘Ballerina’ reaching a mere 15 feet tall. Full sun and an acidic soil are needed for the best autumn colour.

Tips for Tree Planting

A couple of years ago I went to a talk by Tony Kirkham, Kew’s top tree expert. He had these top tips for planting trees:

Excavate a soil pit to just one spit spade depth – many of us plant our trees too deeply. An inch or two can make quite a difference to root development and in turn the overall health of a tree.

Dig a square planting pit not a round one – this encourages the tree’s roots to break out at the corners of the pit and spread out, instead of spiralling round.

Don’t plant too deeply – if a tree rocks on a windy day after planting, it’s too deep.

Trees don’t need additional nutrients in their first year, so there is no need to fertilise at planting.  The tree is concentrating on putting roots down and finding water rather than the uptake of nutrients during this time.

Free Trees for Schools and Communities

Schools and community groups may be interested in the Woodland Trust’s free tree scheme, which is running over the next four years to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Over 3 million trees are up to grabs to help make living memorials across the country.

Packs of saplings of various species and size are available, from 30 for smaller groups and schools, up to 420 for larger schemes. Full details of what’s available and how to apply are on the Woodland Trust’s website:

Note that the closing date for the current tranche of applications is 7th January 2015 and trees will be distributed to successful applicants in March 2015.

Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and garden blogger based in Chippenham, Wiltshire. She is the author of the award winning blog, Veg Plotting, where she writes about her small town garden, seasonal food and anything else which strikes her whilst up at her allotment. Her blog can be found at