Plants for a purpose: trees for small gardens
Discover the perfect tree for even the smallest space, including trees with fiery autumn colour, beautiful blossom and delicious fruit, chosen by the Gardeners' World team and our friends in the gardening world
Even the smallest garden benefits from including at least one tree – if chosen well, they provide year-round colour and interest, benefit wildlife and can make a small garden seem bigger. There's a host of beautiful trees that can be grown in a small garden, and some that will thrive in a container. Here, we share some of our favourite trees for small gardens. There are options to suit every garden style and trees that will provide fabulous autumn foliage, beautiful spring blossom and delicious fruit for you or vibrant berries for the birds. Our choices include recommendations from the Gardeners' World team and familiar faces from across the gardening industry.
Find more planting inspiration:
Chosen by Nick Bailey, Gardeners' World presenter
Few so-called small garden trees are actually small, but this mountain ash forms a near perfect lollipop never taller than 5m. Its pale pinnate leaves have a delicate fern-like quality, which set off the white spring flowers and even whiter hanging clusters of autumn fruits, a treat.
Corylus maxima 'Purpurea'
Chosen by Frances Tophill, Gardeners' World presenter
In a small garden, you need something that will work hard for its space. With a hazel, like Corylus maxima 'Purpurea', the flowers may not be traditional blossoms, but the catkins, really bring that feeling of joy as spring emerges, the purple leaves look lovely through the year, and in autumn (if you're able to fit two) you get delicious cob nuts, and coppice wood to provide timber for pea sticks and structures.
Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki'
Chosen by Toby Buckland, Gardeners' World presenter
I love Japanese maples because they’re so dynamic. The red/green winter twigs are vibrant and bright, the unfurling foliage is as soft as chiffon and the autumn colour is spectacular. My favourite is Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ which, come November, tints a vivid crimson.
Chosen by Manoj Malde, garden designer
Japanese cherries are proving to be drought tolerant trees through our hot summers, making them a great choice for future-proofing our gardens. I love growing Prunus serrulata 'Pink Perfection' as a multi-stem, as it gives me an interesting branch structure to look at in winter, while providing a profusion of pink flowers in late spring.
Chosen by Sue Kent, Gardeners' World presenter
Sorbus aria (whitebeam) is a deciduous upright tree. For me the beautiful silver, white and grey lines of colour in the bark are part of its attraction, in spring this is complemented by small clusters of white flowers. The airy growth makes it perfect for a small garden, and if you choose a variety such as 'Aurea' the leaves are a lovely yellowy-light green, ensuring it never feels too heavy. Autumn interest is provided by dark red fruit.
Cornus controversa 'Variegata'
Chosen by Emma Crawforth, horticultural editor
Known as the wedding-cake tree, as it grows into well-organised tiers of branches, Cornus controversa 'Variegata' is a favourite for giving the wow factor from spring to autumn. Deciduous, this tree will drop its variegated foliage in autumn, leaving an attractive winter silhouette.
This variety is loved even by those who don't usually like variegated plants, because the white-edged leaves contribute to its glamour, while in summer, the small white flowers add a little sparkle! It has an RHS Award of Garden Merit, suits a range of soils and needs a sunny or only partially shaded spot.
Chosen by James Alexander-Sinclair, columnist and garden designer
If your garden is really tiny then you need a tree that is adaptable and amenable to pruning. The best option would be fruity - probably an apple on a dwarf rootstock. Blossom as light and pink as a cloud of cupcakes and edible fruit in the autumn. Pretty ideal.
Chosen by Lily Middleton, content creator
A Judas tree is a great choice for smaller gardens, it's slow growing, reaching just 4m in 20 years, and it packs a punch throughout the year. I love its display of magenta flowers in spring, but it also pulls its weight throughout summer with vibrant foliage, autumn colour and architectural impact in winter. It'll be on my wishlist as soon as I have a slightly larger space than my tiny balcony!
Malus domestica 'Lord Lambourne'
Chosen by Oliver Parsons, horticultural sub-editor
Grown on a dwarfing rootstock, this can be a perfect apple tree for a small garden. Mine lost one of its main stems when I planted it, so it's rather lop-sided, but it still fruits heavily – I thin it mercilessly in early summer to make sure that the crop that I get is worthy of the fruit bowl.
Chosen by Catherine Mansley, digital editor
If you're after big impact from a small tree then look no further than a flamingo tree (Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki' or 'Flamingo'). Its spring foliage is variegated with splashes of cream and bright pink, and when the leaves drop in autumn, its orange stems are revealed. It can be grown as a large shrub or trained as a small standard tree.