Top Tips for choosing the right trees for your garden

Whilst preparing for the Ascot Spring Garden Show, we asked our lead designer, Catherine MacDonald, to share her top tips for choosing trees for the garden.

The Landform Spring Garden at the Ascot Spring Garden Show 2018, designed by Catherine MacDonald

“When choosing the right trees for our garden at the Ascot Spring Garden Show, as well as ensuring the size of specimens worked within the space, I’ve also had to consider a factor that I wouldn’t normally have to think about when designing a show garden at RHS Chelsea & Hampton Court: what species of tree would have some early Spring interest, such as flowering varieties, those early to leaf or evergreen species.

This has inspired me to share a few thoughts and ideas you might want to consider when choosing the right trees for your garden:

  1. Size:

This doesn’t only mean what size the tree is when you buy it, or when your landscape contractor plants it, but what the eventual height of the tree might reach at maturity and therefore what will work within a particular border or space in both the short and the long term.

For example oaks, which although they happen to include two of my favourite species Quercus robur (English oak) & Q. palustris (pin oak, an elegant upright tree with great autumn colour) wouldn’t be suitable for a small or medium sized gardens, but they look amazing when there is enough space for them to flourish!

Quercus robur (left) and Quercus pallustris (right)

If you have a smaller garden or border, either look at using smaller varieties, slower growing species that can be managed more easily or topiary specimens that are pruned and maintained at a particular shape & size. Good species for a small garden include: Cornus kousa (a flowering dogwood, which also has coloured bracts in summer), Malus ‘Evereste’ (a crab able with white spring flowers) and the evergreen Arbutus unedo (the strawberry tree which has strawberry-like fruits appearing in autumn).

From left to right: Cornus kousa, Malus ‘Evereste’ and Arbutus unedo

As an additional note: don’t forget the size of the tree when you buy it is also important – make sure your access is sufficient and you can actually get it into your garden!

  1. Seasonal Interest:

For the Ascot Spring Garden Show, we’ve partnered with Majestic Trees who have helped advise on some of the specimens that will hopefully provide some interest at this time of year. We’ve chosen the following trees: Amelanchier laevis ‘Ballerina’, Amelanchier lamarckii, Acer palmatum and Osmanthus heterophyllus.

Clockwise from top left: Amelanchier laevis ‘Ballerina’, Amelanchier lamarckii, Acer palmatum and Osmanthus heterophyllus

Amelanchiers are at the top of my list, and for many others designers’ as well I would think, for providing year round interest! They have delicate white flowers (usually in April), attractive oval shaped green leaves with berries in sumner and then amazing red tinted leaves in autumn: definitely good value for money!

Amelanchiers have much interest throughout the seasons

Amelanchier in the Landform Spring Garden

Acers are among those species that are earlier to leaf although with the particularly cold weather we’ve had this year, it might not allow the leaves to emerge as early as normal. Acers are renowned for their fabulous autumn colour and also often their bark for example the snake bark maple.

Fresh Spring leaves on an Acer in the Landform Spring Garden

Another species with great autumnal tones is Liquidambar styraciflua, while birch species that have very interesting bark include Betula utilis jacquemontii with white bark and Betula nigra with orange tinted papery bark.

From left to right: Liquidambar styraciflua, Betula utilis jacquemontii and Betula nigra

The last trees we have on our list are specimens of the species Osmanthus heterphyllus which, being evergreen rather then deciduous, have all year round interest. Evergreen trees provide good screening and also a nice backdrop for other garden features. Other evergreen species include holly, Ilex aquifolium, which can also have berries, the holm oak, Quercus ilex (a great looking tree but fairly slow growing and can be expensive) and of course yew, Taxus baccata which can produce some amazing topiary shapes and is also often used as an option for hedging.”

From left to right: Ilex aquifolium, Quercus ilex and Taxus baccata

In an upcoming blog we will look at these other aspects to consider when selecting trees: Form & Shape, Environment & Position, and Exposure & Aspect.

We would always advise to speak to a tree specialist nursery, like Majestic Trees, or a local landscape company, like Landform, to assist with the tree selection and advice about planting, to ensure that the right tree has been selected to best suit your garden.