10 Trees That Work in a Small Garden
Even the smallest garden will benefit from the addition of a tree – but which type to choose?
- Choose a tree with more than one season of interest – spring flowers and autumn colour for example. A tree that flowers for a week and is dull for the rest of the year is not an option when you have limited space.
- Try to choose a tree that is slow-growing. Fast growth may seem like a good idea when you want instant results, but the tree will grow and grow until it outgrows its space.
- The roots of a tree are also important. Trees with large root systems compete with your other plantings and can even become a problem for paving and foundations.
Cornus florida or dogwood is a slow-growing tree with white or pink bracts in spring, covering the tree for weeks on end. It also has lovely red autumn colours. With many species not growing more than 3m high, it is ideal for small spaces and is suitable for semi-shade, in a sheltered position.
More: A Beginner’s Guide to Adding Trees to Your Garden
For warmer sheltered gardens, an olive tree could set the style for your garden. Its silvery evergreen leaves and textured bark mean it will look good all year.
It will also be very drought tolerant and will grow happily in light, dry soils.
Browse more photos of small gardens on Houzz
Not many plants smell like brown sugar, so Cercidiphyllum japonicum – or Katsura – is a tree with a fragrant twist. Ultimately a medium-sized tree, it has a lovely light, delicate canopy. The heart-shaped leaves unfurl bronze in spring and gradually change to fresh green, then eventually turn to tones of yellow and orange in autumn at which time the leaves give off a scent of brown sugar. The overall shape is upright with a very ordered and elegant appearance.
The silver pear or Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ is a wonderful small garden tree, as it lends itself well to pruning, either to keep it in check or for more formal shaping. As well as having beautiful narrow silver foliage, it has scented white flowers in spring. The silvery grey of the leaves adds lightness to a garden and would combine well with blues, yellows or shades of pink.
One of my favourite trees for a small garden is Rhus typhina, commonly known as stag’s horn sumach. It is very compact and has a wonderfully sculptural structure, coupled with vibrant red autumn colour. Though it is a suckering tree, throwing up new suckers here and there, these can be easily dealt with as they are shallow-rooting or you can leave them to grow depending on the style of your garden. This tree companions well with ornamental grasses to give a very natural look.
Birch can ultimately be a large tree, but by choosing a slower- growing variety such as Betula costata and then choosing multi-stem, you can appreciate the beauty of its bark for many years before you need to consider the space it occupies.
Multi-stem trees, like the one above, tend to remain lower as they direct their energy into more than one growing point. The glowing creamy white bark looks at its best when located where low-morning or evening light can illuminate it. Birch tends to have competitive roots, so whatever else you plant at the base needs to be tough and tolerant of dry conditions as the birch will greedily suck up water and nutrients.
The snowy mespilus or Amelanchier lamarckii is a wonderful tree. In early spring, just as the pink-tinged foliage emerges, the tree covers itself in flowers, followed by tiny red berries which birds adore. This adds another dimension to the tree, as if you situate it near a window you can enjoy watching the birds feeding on the berries. In the autumn it turns lovely shades of red and yellow, before the leaves fall. It is light in structure, so doesn’t cast much shade and is adaptable in terms of soil.
There is a fine line between the definition of a tree versus a shrub, a tree being taller and, generally, with a single stem. But there’s a bit of a trend for multi-stemmed trees, so why not prune up a suitable shrub into a suitably proportioned tree-shape. This approach could be taken with an existing shrub in your garden or you could choose a shrub with good attributes. For example, Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ is a lovely large shrub with red berries held all winter and makes a fine tree when pruned carefully – and it’s evergreen to boot!
Look no further than the Japanese maples. Slow-growing and graceful, they have delicate translucent foliage, through which the sun will shine, illuminating the whole plant. Shade-loving, these trees grow happily with other shade-tolerant plants such as ferns and hostas.
Foliage colours vary amongst the myriad varieties. Some have spectacular spring colours and most have stunning autumn colours. They do need shelter and dislike wind or dry situations which causes their delicate foliage to brown and curl.
Crab apples and even sweet apple trees lend themselves to annual pruning and shaping. Here, a lovely dome shape is evocative of traditional cottage gardens. Beautiful blossom in spring and ornamental or edible fruit in autumn that can remain on the tree for a lengthy period, mean these trees have two seasons of interest. They are also wonderful for birds as they are home to many insects and provide fruit in the autumn.
More: Garden Tour: Crab Apple Trees Flank a Stylish Courtyard Garden
Not all these gardens are small, but each of the trees highlighted will work in a petite patch. Which would you choose and why? Share your stories in the Comments.