Using Trees in the Garden

When it comes to adding height, structure and a point of interest to the landscape, there is nothing to beat a tree. Whether it’s a stand of mature, native broad-leafs or smaller and more exotic types – Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) or Snow Gum ( Eucalyptus pauciflora) – few plants make quite such an impact or lend any garden quite such a sense of permanence.

While it is often thought that trees have no place in many of today’s small gardens – and some types certainly do grow far too large to be considered – there are so many ornamental varieties available that even the tiniest of plots should have enough room for its own tree. Successfully incorporating trees in the overall garden design calls for careful selection and an understanding of the unique contribution they can make – but the good news is that there is sure to be something to suit, whatever your needs.

Choosing Your Tree

With trees generally being the largest and most long-lived of all the plants in the garden, choosing them and selecting the right spot to plant them becomes one of the most important decisions for the gardener – if only because of their enduring effect on the rest of the landscape. When selecting trees for the garden, on a practical level, it is important to consider their speed of growth, eventual height and spread, whether they will do well in your soil and if they are hardy enough to thrive where you intend to plant them. You may also want to think about their shape and form – which can be every bit as important for landscape design as their final size.

Obviously, the smaller the plot, the fewer the number of trees it can accommodate, which places even more pressure on getting the choice right and if yours is truly a one-tree-garden, then it is absolutely essential that you pick your specimen tree carefully. However, even if space is this limited, there is much to be said for the lone tree, since it has the full scope to develop and display its natural form in the absence of any competition: the effect can be surprising – if only because it tends to form a really powerful focal point.

On the other hand, if space allows, you might like to consider planting groups of trees – the same or different kinds – to make a more substantial feature; such a miniature woodland effect can also be achieved in the smaller garden using birches (Betula) and maples (Acer).

Trees for the Small Garden

Although with careful pruning, the small garden may be able to accommodate a variety of types of trees, those which grow no more than 20 feet (6m) in height are ideal. Since many plots may really only have sufficient space for one or two trees, varieties which provide interest throughout the seasons are particularly desirable. Malus floribunda (the Japanese crab apple), for instance, offers a long-lived display of crimson-red buds, followed by white or pale pink flowers and finally reddish-yellow fruits. Rowans (Sorbus), willows (Salix) and Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are also worthy candidates to consider.

Growing Trees in Containers

Growing trees in containers and large pots can extend the scope of roof gardens, courtyards and patios and enable even the smallest of spaces to add a little of the height and structure that trees offer. In addition, it allows trees which are ordinarily too tender to tolerate a British winter to be grown outside during the spring and summer and removed into more sheltered conditions as the weather turns colder.

It is worth bearing in mind that a containerised tree is every bit as much of a long-term, permanent garden feature as any more conventionally planted one, so choosing durable and attractive pots is a must.

From the largest of gardens to the smallest of patios, no other single plant can make quite such a big impact as a tree, whether it has been chosen for foliage, blossom or architectural form. Trees have a way of stirring our souls and with the wide range available in even the most modest of garden centres, few plots – however small – need be without the unique contribution a tree can bring.