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Trees for small gardens

Small trees

Small trees can be used to create impact in gardens of all sizes, adding height, structure and year-round interest. We caught up with David Hurrion, Acting Horticultural Editor of Gardeners' World magazine, to discover his top 10 trees for small gardens.


Small gardens can only accommodate one or two trees, so it's important to make the right choice. A small tree can provide year-round interest, with spring blossom, summer fruits and autumn colour. Once the leaves have fallen from the tree, its bare stems become its main attraction. Here are David's recommendations for small trees that will look great from January to December.

Albizia julibrissin

This small tree provides year-round interest with finely divided leaves and dark green-grey bark that develops stripes with age. It rarely flowers, but may produce beautiful pink, puffball blooms. Albizia julibrissin grows to a height of 12m.

Acer griseum, Paper-bark maple

The paper-bark maple is a slow-growing small tree with dark green leaves that turn a rich, crimson colour in autumn. Once the leaves have fallen, its trunk and stems provide winter interest, as the chestnut- coloured bark peels away to reveal the new, orange-red bark beneath. The paper-bark maple will tolerate partial shade and grows to a height of 10m.

Prunus serrula, Tibetan cherry

Prunus serrula is perfect tree for small gardens. It provides year-round interest, producing small, white flowers in spring, followed by small fruits and red or yellow leaves in autumn. Its shiny bark remains a deep red throughout the year. It can reach a height of 10m.

Eriobotrya japonica, Loquat

Featured in Toby Buckland's gold medal-winning Ethical garden at BBC Gardeners' World Live 2008, Eriobotrya japonica is a small tree with large, evergreen leaves. Grown in a sheltered, sunny spot, it will produce edible pear-shaped yellow loquats. It's best grown in well-drained soil in full sun or part-shade, where it can reach an eventual height of 4m.

Amelanchier lamarkii, June berry

Amelanchier lamarckii has white, showy blossom in early spring and purple fruit in summer. In autumn, its leaves fade from dark green to gold. A. lamarckii prefers growing in a sunny or part-shady spot in moist soil, and can reach an eventual height of 6m.

Malus floribunda, Japanese crab apple

Easy to grow, Malus floribunda is a deciduous tree, which bears attractive crimson flower buds that open to reveal white-pink blooms in late-spring. Small red and yellow crab apples appear in autumn. It grows to a height of 4m.

Ficus carica Fig tree

Figs are native to Syria and Persia, but have been grown in Britain since Roman times. Although the species doesn't offer a reliable fruit crop in the UK, it's still worth growing for its striking, lobed foliage. Shelter the fig against a warm wall.

Eucalyptus niphophila, Snow gum

The snow gum provides year-round interest, with grey, green and cream patchwork bark and evergreen grey-green leaves, which grow longer and narrower with age. Eucalyptus niphophila bears small, snow-white flowers in summer. It will tolerate most soil types, but prefers full sun, and can grow to a height of 8m.

Cercis chinensis 'Avondale', Chinese redbud

The Chinese redbud can be grown as a small tree or large shrub. It bears small, pink-purple flowers on bare stems in late-spring, before developing glossy, heart-shaped leaves. Grown in a fertile soil in full sun or part-shade, it can reach a height of 3.5m.

Lyonothamnus floribundus subsp. asplenifolius, Catalina Ironwood

Lyonothamnus is a fast-growing, evergreen tree with a slender habit. Its attractive, cinnamon-coloured bark peels off to reveal lighter, new bark. The tree bears small, white flowers in summer. L. floribundus subsp. asplenifolius grows best in a sheltered position and can reach a height of 5m.




Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: Trees for small gardens
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Willowtree 24/11/2011 at 15:28

Only in the description of the Eucalyptus is the soil type mentioned. It is helpful to know if plants are lime tolerant, but this is so often omitted.

I have two different rowan trees, and they are beautiful small trees - elegant and airy, with flowers, fruit and good autumn colour. The birds think they are great too. And they keep the witches away!

Agilityamber 24/11/2011 at 15:28

30m is not a small tree. This is very misleading. I have a small garden and a tree this size would fill the garden

ingrid.v8x 24/11/2011 at 15:28

I agree with the comment from the person about the 30m tree - WOW, that's HUGE!! Another small tree that we planted a year ago in our North-West facing garden on top of a very windy hill is the Caragana arborescens or Siberian Pea Tree. The description says that it "can grow up to 6 metres tall but in practice seldom exceeds about 3 metres".

dolphingirl 24/11/2011 at 15:28

i would like a small tree in my very small garden so that i can hang a bird box on it but i have four cats would the birds be safe?

kaycurtis 24/11/2011 at 15:28

I have planted my BBC Rowan tree in my garden or should I say the tiny stick that I recieved from the garden centre, hope it grows but I have this awful feeling that eventually will be too big.

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