At this time of year, it’s the glitz and sparkle of Christmas trees that hustle for attention. But spare a thought for the trees in the garden. Plant a new tree now, and it will spend the cold, wet winter months quietly building a strong root system while you put your feet up.
November to February is the bare-root season, when trees are dug up from the fields where they’ve been grown and can be replanted straight into the ground, rather than potted into containers, when they need to be fed and watered and generally fussed over. Once a bare root tree is in situ, it can simply be watered occasionally and left to strut its wonderful stuff in spring.
In smaller gardens a tree needs to earn its place, with at least two seasons of interest. Blossom in spring, a light canopy for summer, a colourful autumn show, a filigree of branches in winter, or an eye-catching bark. Here are six of the best:
- Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ (Eastern redbud). In April a scattering of dark rose- pink, pea-like flowers burst from bare branches, followed by heart-shaped, burgundy-purple leaves. The leaves are the star. A sunny spot brings out their best colour, creating a summer tapestry of all the vibrant shades of red wine before turning fiery red in autumn. Forest Pansy copes with most soils, except heavy clay. 8mhx8mw.
- Amelanchier lamarckii (Snowy mespilus/Juneberry). New leaves start out pinky-bronze, followed by a cloud of delicate, star-shaped white blossom in April. The Juneberry’s light canopy provides dappled shade for summer perennials, before it goes out in a blaze of red and orange glory in autumn. A multi-stemmed specimen will make a bold, winter sculpture, too. The Juneberry is tough, copes with sun or shade and most soils.
- Sorbus vilmorinii (Vilmorin’s rowan) A distant relative of the European mountain ash, this tree is native to China and is about as low-maintenance and unfussy as you can get. Its dark green leaves are divided into pretty leaflets that flutter in the breeze, and sprays of creamy-white blossoms in late spring give way to deep red berries. But the best thing about this tree is its extended finale. As the leaves stage their autumn show of red and purple and drop, the berries fade to first to pink, then to white and cling for most of the winter. A stunner. 5mx5m.
- Cornus kousa var. chinensis (Strawberry dogwood). Variants of this tree from China were all over the place at the Chelsea Flower Show this year. And no wonder. It has a strong, conical shape, and in early summer, the branches are smothered in long-lasting, showy white bracts which look like handkerchiefs of snow, before fading to lovely shades of pink. Come autumn, the leaves burn fiery red and orange, and mature trees sometimes have bright red, strawberry-like fruits as well. This dogwood likes fertile soil, including acid, but won’t flourish on shallow chalky ground. A showstopper. 7mx5m.
- Betula utilis var. jacquemontii (Himalayan birch). It’s the bark that takes the breath away. Pure white trunks and branches look ethereal etched against pale wintry skies. In summer, draped in yellow catkins under the lightest of canopies, or glowing brilliant yellow in autumn, this birch has an elegance all of its own. It copes with any soil, with sun or shade and will grow quickly and gain stature. A multistemmed one will be more restrained.
- Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ (Coral bark Japanese maple.) . Not the showiest of the Japanese maples, but a tree with more subtle virtues through the year. Young branches glow coral-pink in winter, and the new, palm-shaped leaves are edged with pink. As they mature, they turn bright green for the summer and soft, butter-yellow in autumn. It likes sun or partial shade and will cope with most soils and most conditions, including, unusually, for acers, drought.
Originally published in Meze magazine