Diarmuid Gavin: Expect a burst of colour as the first flowering trees come into bloom
In Dublin a week or two ago, it was confirmed that up to 1,400 front gardens could be reduced in size to clear the way for swifter bus corridors. And in urban and suburban areas around the country gardens are getting smaller as development land where people wish to live becomes more expensive. If gardens are decreasing in size, we have to be mindful of the plants which may be appropriate for them - especially trees.
A streetscape full of trees is a wonderful thing with so many benefits, from the purely aesthetic to the home it can provide for myriad pollinating creatures. And flowering trees have the ability to dramatically alter the look of a street, delighting householders and passers-by, indicating the change of seasons and pointing out the incredible beauty and diversity of the natural world. Trees are good for us - they clean the air, produce oxygen and then provide the joy of colour, none more so than the spring flowering trees. So, which flowering tree species would make the most appropriate choices for smaller gardens?
Over the next two months cherry (pictured), plum and apple trees will put on their annual show. In Japan this season is celebrated with the Hanami festival where people young and old picnic under the blossom trees and spend time with family admiring nature at its best. Take a visit to your local park or walk around the neighbourhood over the next month so you enjoy them before they are gone. Better still, plant one in your own garden.
The flowering cherries are vast in their variety but it's best to choose wisely for the average-sized garden as some need a lot of space with their broad canopies. Prunus 'Little Pink Perfection' is a gorgeous dwarf cherry with showy pink blossoms and would be very happy in a container. 'Amanogawa' is the slim upright version - not to everyone's taste but fantastic where space is limited. For an elegant weeping version that can fit in a small space, Cheal's Weeping Cherry is best.
In May our hedgerows will be replete with white flowering hawthorn. There's a lovely cultivated version called 'Paul's Scarlet' which has really pretty reddish pink double blossoms and forms a very neat rounded tree, ideal as a specimen in a lawn or front garden. The brilliant thing about crataegus is that they will grow in most soils, aspects and in sun or shade, by the sea or inner city.
The snowy mespilus (Amelanchier lamarckii ballerina) is either grown as a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub. Either way, it's an elegant specimen with lots of large white flowers in spring and grows to around 4.5m. It also earns its keep by putting on a vibrant autumnal display. It prefers neutral to acidic soil.
I've been checking the grey hairy buds of my magnolia 'Leonard Messel' - they don't look damaged and I can't wait for their fabulous display. This variety is excellent as it is less liable to frost damage than other magnolias and remains compact in overall size. Its flowers are large, lilac and scented, making this a magnolia of remarkable beauty. I'm also looking forward to seeing how the fairy magnolia does as I only planted it last year. This is a relatively new introduction, an evergreen shrub with lots of buds along the stems, making it a very free flowering variety.
Finally, crab apples are one of the best trees for small gardens, providing good all year-round interest in blossom and fruit. Plus, they don't cast too much shade and are good for wildlife. Favourites here include 'Evereste' which has white flowers followed by orange fruit that can stay on the tree until December, and 'Rudolphe' which has rosy pink flowers paired with juvenile purple foliage - gorgeous!
Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori' is the Japanese apricot and a really delightful early performer with deep pink, almond-scented flowers on bare stems. Frosts will have been tough for it so it's probably best with a little shelter.