Trees provide shelter, shade, structure and more to a garden – and January is a good time to plant one. But what to choose? Here, Abbotswood’s MD and self-confessed tree lover Rob Chew agonizes over his top ten favourites…
1. Amelanchier lamarkii
Common name/s: Snowy mespilus or Juneberry.
Tree type: Small deciduous tree that’s extremely versatile as it can be can be grown as a single or multi-stemmed tree. It has very early, dainty white flowers in April and super autumn colour with orange/red hues. Easy to prune.
Why branch out? Good as a single specimen where space is tight, close to a building or in a smaller garden for example, but equally beautiful in an open glade between woodland, under planted with bulbs.
Buy: There are various cultivars of which ‘Robin Hill’ is the best owing to its uniform shape/habit. Try www.chewvalleytrees.co.uk
2. Arbutus unedo
Common name/s: Strawberry Tree, Cane Apple
Tree type: One of my favourite smaller trees (some might class it as large shrub), which can grow to 8m. In Cambridgeshire, we regularly see specimens of 3-5m.
Why branch out? Terrific evergreen foliage with attractive bark, interesting urn-shaped white flowers and wonderful red fruit. The strawberry-like fruits appear on the tree during late autumn/winter.
Buy: The form ‘Rubra’ has an attractive pink, bell-shaped flowers. Try www.burncoose.co.uk
3. Quercus ilex
Common name/s: Holm Oak.
Tree type: Evergreen with dark, glossy foliage and yellow catkins.
Why branch out? Mature trees – such as those seen around the Holkham Estate in Norfolk – make for majestic landscape trees, with large spreading crowns and attractive chequerboard bark. Perhaps one of the most useful trees for screening as it can be pruned to form hedges or rounded topiary forms. It tolerates shade, exposed conditions and surprisingly damp soil.
4. Sorbus aria ‘Majestica’
Common name/s: Whitebeam ‘Majestica’.
Tree type: Medium-sized deciduous tree with a conical or spreading habit, glossy green foliage and white flowers in spring. In autumn, the leaves turn russet and gold with bunches of deep crimson and brown speckled fruits.
Why branch out? An underrated tree whose downy emergent leaves are quite beautiful in spring, and become grey green with white on the reverse in summer. It also thrives on chalk – making it a good choice for our Cambridge gardens.
5. Crateagus x prunifolia
Common name/s: Broad-leaved cockspur thorn.
Tree type: As part of the Hawthorne ‘tribe’, this is a tough, small tree with white flowers, but this one also has tidy, glossy-green foliage.
Why branch out? Its stunning orange/red autumn colour combines with profuse red fruits for an impressive display. Looks very good with other woody shrubs.
6. Cryptomeria japonica
Common name/s: Japanese cedar.
Tree type: Large and vigorous evergreen conifer with red brown bark.
Why branch out? There’s a lot of prejudice when it comes to conifers, which leads to some of the finer ones being ignored. This one has delicate feathery foliage which looks attractive all year, especially with heavy dew – but even more so in the winter when it turns a beautiful bronze colour. Combines well with other trees and is an attractive plant near paths where you can admire it and brush past its delicate foliage.
7. Malus Evereste
Common name/s: Crab apple ‘Evereste’.
Tree type: Small deciduous tree with pinky-red buds turning to white, and yellow-orange fruits.
Why branch out? Winner of the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) and deservedly so. This tree has a lovely rounded form, which can be trained from maiden whips into espalier trees for ornamental use on walls. Large single stem trees and pleached panels are also available, and would make an interesting alternative screening option.
Buy: most reputable garden centres/nurseries
8. Pinus mugo mops
Common name/s: Dwarf mountain pine.
Tree type: Slow-growing evergreen conifer with rounded habit and slender green needles.
Why branch out? It might be diminutive but this tree’s attractive and slow growing habit makes it almost bonsai or topiary ball in form. The plant does well with other conifers and heathers, and at Abbotswood, our garden designers have used it in plantings with hebe, rosemary, santolina and myrtus communis subsp tarentiana (Tarentum myrtle).
9. Betula utlis
Common name/s: West Himalayan birch or Kashmir birch.
Tree type: Vigorous deciduous tree with brilliant white bark.
Why branch out? With the whitest of the birch trunks, this tree provides year-round interest – even 24hr interest if the trunks are illuminated with up lighters! With all the merits of birch – quick growing, attractive small leaves, shimmering movement, great buttery yellow colour in autumn, catkins etc – it is not overly large and can look good as a stand-alone specimen or massed as multi-stemmed trees.
Buy: A cost effective tree for instant impact, with a large range of options from bare root plants to large container specimens. Try: www.swallowsnursery.co.uk
10. Prunus shirofugen
Common name/s: Cherry ‘Shirofugen’
Tree type: Small deciduous tree with blousy blossom and good autumn colour.
Why branch out? One of the best Japanese cherries, with a wide-spreading habit that’s quite beautiful to behold in May. Shirofugen means ‘White God’ in Japanese and the large double flowers, while pink in bud, open up to white and fade to pink, contrasting beautifully with the young, coppery/bronze foliage.