Best 20 trees for the garden

The best 20 trees for colour,  interest,  and sheer beauty 

Best trees: Amelanchier lamarckii (snowy mespilus) has something special each season, and birds love the fruit.

Best trees: Amelanchier lamarckii (snowy mespilus) has something special each season, and birds love the fruit.

Five for autumn colour

You don’t need big trees to get big colour in autumn — these will really knock your socks off.

1 Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ is the star among Japanese maples, for truly brilliant orange-red autumn colour.

2 Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ (aka ‘Senkaki’) is my favourite for really yellow foliage, but with an extra punch thanks to contrasting bright red twigs.

3 Amelanchier lamarckii (snowy mespilus) has something special each season, and birds love the fruit. It’s a tough, go anywhere tree.

4 Sorbus vilmorinii is a very neat, compact mountain ash with ferny foliage and berries that change colour the wrong way round — from red to pink and then white!

5 Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ forms a narrow, upright column and is clad in wonderful pear blossom in spring, with good foliage that colours up well in autumn. At home I have eight of these planted as an ‘avenue’ next to my terrace — they’re fabulous!

Five for year round appeal

These small and medium-sized trees earn their keep with more than one season of interest.

1 Acer griseum offers great shape, superb autumn colour and shaggy, peeling, gingery bark that shows up best in winter.

Big Photo of Acer Griseum

2 Caragana arborescens (Siberian pea tree) is an unusual tree for a ‘difficult’ situation, as it withstands heat, cold and wind. It has a light canopy of ladder-like leaves and yellow pea flowers followed by pods. It’s also good in pots.

3 Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree) produces pink pea-flowers that sprout straight from the branches and trunk, before the heart-shaped leaves appear. These are followed by red pods.

4 Myrtus communis (myrtle) is a multipurpose evergreen with small bay-like leaves, gingery bark and spiky white flowers in late summer, followed by black berries that birds adore. It has culinary uses, and takes kindly to trimming and shaping so is ideal for pots.

5 Aralia elata ‘Variegata’ (Japanese angelica tree) forms a large shrub or smallish multistemmed tree with beautiful variegated foliage and large heads of frothy off-white flowers in autumn. The spiky trunks show up well in winter.

Five for a seasonal spectacular

Enjoy beautiful emerging new foliage or unbeatable blossom or fruit on these small to medium-sized trees.

1 Embothrium coccineum (Chilean fire bush) can be trained as a small tree, its sparse canopy lighting up with orange-red ‘tongues’ of fiery flower in early summer. It prefers acid soil and should be sheltered from drying winds.foto 2

2 Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ is a conical evergreen tree which produces masses of large, white, cup-shaped flowers with clusters of yellow stamens in the centre. It’s spectacularly glam during August and September.

3 Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brilliantissimum’ is a small tree with a light canopy of shocking pink leaves in spring.

4 Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree) produces flowers and ripe fruits (from the previous year) all at once during late autumn, when it’s very welcome.

5 Paeonia suffruticosa (tree peony) is breathtakingly beautiful in full bloom, reaching nearly 2m tall. The various varieties offer massive chalice-shaped blooms in frothy pinks, oriental reds or pristine white in May or June.

5 for front gardensThese trees will stay compact, with a fine tracery of branches casting only light shade.

1 Betula albosinensis (Chinese red birch) is one of the ‘posher’ birches, with pink and cinnamon peeling bark.

2 Genista aetnensis (Mount Etna broom) makes a wide, weeping tree with bright green twigs instead of leaves. It needs little attention, then in July bursts into yellow bloom.

3 Sambucus racemosa ‘Plumosa Aurea’ is a flamboyantly shaggy golden elder. Naturally forming a large shrub, it’s best trained as a multi-stemmed tree or can be pollarded.

4 Magnolia x loebneri varieties make superb small trees. My favourite is ‘Leonard Messel’ because of its abundant pale pink flowers in mid-spring.

5 Gleditsia triacanthos (honey locust) offers light, ferny foliage. The coloured-leaved varieties, such as golden ‘Sunburst’ or mahogany-red ‘Ruby Lace’, are small and slow growing and will do well in pots.Trees and neighbours Make sure trees don’t lead to disputes with your neighbours:

  • Don’t plant a tree close to neighbours’ buildings on soils prone to subsidence. Consider the eventual height and spread. Is the tree likely in time to overhang your neighbour’s property or restrict their light? There are legal positions on both of these issues, and these also apply to neighbouring trees that overhang your own property.
  • If you want to remove branches that overhang your garden from next door, first ask your neighbour if they are willing to cut them back. If they refuse — and the tree is not protected by a tree preservation order (TPO) — you are legally entitled to prune within the following criteria. You must only cut on your side of the boundary; you must not trespass on your neighbour’s property; you must offer the prunings to your neighbour; if your neighbour doesn’t want them, you must dispose of them in a responsible way (you mustn’t leave them in your neighbour’s garden without permission). If the tree is protected by a TPO, or is within a Conservation Area you must apply to your local authority for permission to prune. To find out if a tree is has a TPO, contact your local authority.
  • There is very little legal protection related to the loss of light caused by single trees or deciduous trees. What there is only applies to the windows of a property and not to the garden. However, when it comes to high evergreen hedges, local authorities do have powers in certain circumstances to instruct a hedge owner to reduce the height or face a fine of up to £1,000.

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