Small Trees


There are something like 150 deciduous species of acers known mainly as maples, sometimes as sycamores, most of them easy to grow and highly decorative. Trees and shrubs are grown predominantly for their timber, the form and colour of their foliage and for the interesting bark produced by some species. The flowers are small, insignificant, clustered and greenish yellow. The fruits consist of two wings like a propeller, joined at the centre by the two seeds. A. campestre, the common or field maple, can be grown as a hedge but will also reach more than 20m (65ft) in height. There are also A. platanoides, the Norway maple; A. pseudoplatanus, the common sycamore; acers for leaf colour, for beautiful bark and perhaps best of all, the Japanese maples, A. palmatum, with five- or seven-lobed leaves. Maples like a moist, well-drained soil and some protection from strong winds.


A deciduous tree or shrub known as snowy mespilus or June berry, it will grow to 5m (16ft) or more and will make a spreading and bushy shrub. Of the dozen or so species and varieties available, the best for most gardens is probably A. lamarckii, which has silky, copper-red leaves becoming more vivid in the autumn. Starry white flowers are produced in spring, hanging in long racemes and developing into crimson fruits which gradually turn black and shining. Several species are often wrongly named as A. canadensis, the service berry, which has downy leaves when young and little edible berries. Another good species is A. laevis, particularly beautiful in spring, when the profusion of starry white flowers shows well against the somewhat sparse pink leaves.


The only member of this deciduous pea family tree or shrub that appears to be well known is the familiar Judas tree, C. siliquastrum, so called because of the legend that Judas hanged himself on it. This is a pity, for several of the half dozen or so species available to us are worth growing in our gardens so long as the site is not too cold and windy, for cercis trees like full sun and good drainage at their roots. The Judas tree has clusters of pink to purple pea-like flowers in spring on bare branches. The variety ‘Alba’ has white flowers. C. canadensis, the North American red bud, also has pale, almost white flowers. Some species are somewhat slow to flower, spending their first years preparing themselves for the event.


This is a splendid plant which will grow in any soil, in sun or shade, evergreen and deciduous, as a prostrate ground hugger or as a tree up to 6m (19ft) tall. It produces masses of pretty little pinkish-white flowers in spring that are loved by the bees and follows these flowers with berries, mainly red or orange. It has leaves that can be tiny or comparatively large and none of the hundred or more species and varieties has any spines or thorns to tear fingers or clothes. Perhaps the most popular and most used cotoneaster is C. horizontalis, growing in flat, fan-like branches with the stems arching out like a fishbone, thick with flowers in spring. Covered with berries in autumn. This is one of the convenient plants that can be used as a ground cover to hide a manhole cover, yet it will also lean decoratively and protectively against a wall or fence. It is not evergreen, but several species which are include C. conspicuus ‘Decorus’ and C. salicifolius ‘Autumn Fire’, both with scarlet berries.


Like the cotoneaster, Crataegus is a member of the rose family. Known popularly as hawthorn or may, these are the last of the spring-flowering trees, decorating the countryside with their masses of white flowers in late May or early June and following these in autumn with the haws — their shining berries, usually red, sometimes orange. Once they are established, hawthorns will grow under almost any conditions, in the industrial smoke and at the salt-laden seaside. The best known species is C. monogyna, the common may, hawthorn or quick, so called because of its convenient ability to grow and take root quickly after the most casual thrusting of a twig into the soil. It has perfumed white flowers and powerful thorns, which are a considerable assistance in its function as a hedge. There are, however, species which are almost thornless.


An interesting and attractive genus normally represented in our gardens by only one species. It makes a tree which will grow to 5m (16ft), bearing pinnate leaves made up often or so oval leaflets which begin as red in spring, turn a pale yellow, then green and finally become bright yellow in autumn. The leaves are probably one reason for one of its popular names, golden rain tree. The yellow flowers appear in mid-summer and are followed by curious brown-bronze bladders bearing the seeds. Best-known species is K. paniculata, which develops into a mop-headed medium-sized tree. A variety, apiculata, rarely seen, differs only in having more leaves.


The malus or flowering crab is said to provide more examples of small trees for the garden than any other genus with the possible exception of prunus, the flowering cherries. Certainly the crabs are highly decorative with their masses of white, pink or red flowers in April or May to be followed by the ornamental and sometimes edible fruits in the autumn. Malus and prunus can be differentiated by a glance at the flowers, for the malus has five styles in the centre and prunus only one. With the fruits, malus has a series of apple-like pips in the centre while prunus has only the one almond-like stone. Best-known favourite is probably ‘John Downie’, with white flowers followed by large crab apples, brilliantly coloured with orange and yellow. ‘Golden Hornet’ has rich yellow rounder fruits. A fairly modern hybrid, ‘Profusion‘, brings masses of fragrant, wine-red flowers, with copper-red foliage and very dark red fruits, and M. tschotioskii is upright, conical, with pinky-white flowers, yellow fruits and vivid leaves of yellow, orange, scarlet and almost purple in the autumn.


Sadly neglected, the mulberry is not always easy to find in nurseries or garden centres. The tree is comparatively small and slow growing, yet well clothed with attractive leaves. It outlives most of us and produces an abundance of fruits that are quite unique in flavour and texture. It is said that trees are slow to fruit until they reach a considerable age, but this is not so with modern cultivars, which will fruit abundantly when only four or five years old. Look for Morus nigra, the black mulberry, rather than M. alba, the white, for the latter is the one on which the silkworms feed, not the fruiting species.


The family is a wide one, including all the Japanese cherries, the almond, apricot, peach, bird cherry and both common and Portugal laurels. They grow well in almost any soil, generally preferring lime, enjoy full sun and produce flowers with prodigality. There are forms that grow spire-like upwards and those that are drooping and pendulous. There are species like P. subhirtella autumnalis that will be in flower almost every day from November to April or later, right through the winter. There are species with purple leaves, among which is the well-known P. cerasifera ‘Pissardii’, grown frequently as an attractive and highly efficient hedging plant. There are many Japanese flowering cherries, most of them bearing Japanese names like the favourite ‘Amanogawa’, the columnar pillar of spring blossom which is such a space saver in a small garden. Some of the foliage is a beautiful bronze, especially when young. Some flowers are double, some single. Ornamental plum, peach, almond and cherry are apt to suffer from peach leaf curl, a fungus disease, so a preventive spray early in the year is advisable.


This is another small, decorative tree from the productive rose family. The decorative pear will grow in almost any soil, in sun or shade, in moist or dry. In cold or heat. It is tolerant of atmospheric pollution and demands no special attention, no special pruning. There are fewer pyrus species than prunus and malus. But sheer quality has forced P. salicifolia to the foreground and it is now to be seen everywhere. This is the willow-leaved pear, with attractive leaves covered in spring with a silvery fuzz which later turns a whitish green. There are white flowers in spring. The common form is the pendulous one, with branches sweeping downwards from the domed crown of the tree. A specimen that grows upwards rather than down is P. calleryana, with green leaves which turn red in winter. The species nivalis has a foam of white flowers against a background of silvery white foliage.


The willows are agreeable trees that fulfil a number of garden tasks in a quiet and modest manner. They are perhaps best appreciated for their appearance in weeping form and S. chrysocoma, the golden weeping willow, can be one of our most beautiful trees though it should have plenty of space around it, preferably with water nearby, for it to look its best. Unfortunately loo often it is placed where it will quickly crowd the space allotted to it and subsequent frantic pruning and lopping will ruin its appearance. In these situations it is far better to choose the smaller growing Salix purpurea ‘Pendula’, the American weeping willow. There are a number of non-weeping willows, all of them interesting, easy and fast growing, a useful attribute with a new garden and convenient because none of the willows resents a certain amount of pruning and cutting about. Try the fast-growing cricket bat willow, S. ‘Cacrulea’, oval in shape with purple shoots or S. daphnoides, the violet willow.


Another invaluable member of the Rosaceae. The rose family, the sorbus is neatly divided into the aucuparias or mountain ashes and the arias or whitebeams, all of which grow well under most conditions, are hardy, tolerant of pollution and even of seaside salt sprays. S. aucuparia, the mountain ash or rowan, is familiar enough and has a number of varieties, all of which produce clusters of red or orange fruits or berries in autumn, quickly devoured by the birds. S. aria is said to be one of the best trees for coastal, windswept and industrial areas and is particularly at home on a chalky soil. The leaves are simple as opposed to pinnate in the aucuparias. The whitebeams have a foliage which is greyish-white at first, later turning green, then gold and red when the scarlet fruits appear.

19. June 2013 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Fruit Trees | Comments Off on Small Trees


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