Put roots down
Finding the right tree relies on your personality, says Marie Staunton
Trees make such an impact on a landscape. They tell a story, turning a garden into a more interesting place to be. Now, in the age of the internet, where accessibility to those not so ordinary plants is but a click away, we are making very interesting choices when it comes to buying trees.
Deciding on a specimen tree for a garden can be daunting, but for me it's all about personality. I'm not a whimsical person so my choices would veer towards the more robust, cuddly sort of trees with big girths, ones that just say 'hug me'.
If I had the space, a Cork Oak would be my preference. I visit the one in the Botanic Gardens every time I go there, and give it a quick hug. Children love to feel the bark; it's so tactile and just so different from any of the other varieties of Oak.
For those with a more refined personality and an eye for an extremely good looking tree, then one by the name of Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia' will appeal.
Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park in Dublin has a beautiful one that you really should have a look at. The leaves are a delicate limey yellow and dance in the slightest breeze. It's not a particularly strong tree, requiring a sheltered garden with a careful owner who will baby it into maturity.
I have always had a soft spot for the Arbutus x andrachnoides with its gleaming polished bark that shines so beautifully, even on the dullest of days, and although it will get to a very decent size in a small garden, it might just be the specimen tree you have been looking for. The beauty applies not only to its wood but also to the tiny little strawberry fruits and cream urn-shaped flowers borne in late autumn.
For those with an artistic temperament and an eye for form, how about grouping a number of White-barked Birch? These trees, up-lit and positioned where you can admire them from the house, become your very own piece of living modern art.
Use the Latin name when shopping for it. Betula utilis var Jacquemontii is, in my opinion, the best.
Another quirky little tree that will appeal to the minimalist in you is a very unusual one from New Zealand called Pseudopanax ferox. Because of its unusual foliage it will require an uncluttered space in the garden so that it can show off properly. It will not take a battering from a very cold winter preferring temperatures not lower than -5.
A tree that you may not know, but is well worth investing in, is the handsome Luma apiculata. The tiny evergreen shiny aromatic leaves play second fiddle to the bark, which is the colour of cinnamon splashed with cream.
For those that feel they don't have room for another tree, let me tempt you with the very small and perfectly formed Prunus incisa 'Kojo no mai' which has all the attributes of a flowering cherry while taking up very little space in your garden.
I can't imagine any of us have childhood memories that don't include at least one with a favourite tree.
If the Oak trees at the top of our road could talk they would have an awful lot to say about me. Mercifully they can't!
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. I am buying hedging for our garden and am looking for a hedge that will look good all year round and require a once a year cut.
Ans. Oleria traversii is a very well behaved plant even in a coastal location, the more I see this plant used for hedging the more I like it, after planting cut it back hard to encourage side shoots. It looks a little drastic but in the long run it will bush out and be a very decent hedge. If you are looking for a plant that has a darker colour and has a tidy habit then how about a Taxus or yew which grows extremely well here in Ireland. A deciduous hedge of beech is widely used and even though it does shed its leaves in winter it has a dense appearance that appeals to a lot of gardeners. The new leaves are a vibrant green in early spring and once I see them I know that we are out of winter and heading into a brand new season. Native hedges can be both deciduous and evergreen, hawthorn, blackthorn, privet and holly are but a few that you can mix together to insure a beautiful hedge that will attract plenty of insects and small birds.
Q. I have a very large clump of Cyclamen in one part of the garden and would love more under trees elsewhere, what is the best way to propagate them?
Ans. We collect ripe seed just before they burst open in summer and either scatter them around under the trees or sow them in pots or trays and cover them with a layer of grit. They need darkness and a period of cold for successful germination. If you aren't one of those very tidy gardeners then just scatter the seed around and forget the hoeing around the trees for a while to give them a chance to settle in. You could also transplant seedlings from the clump which usually have one small leaf. These can be transplanted to other parts of the garden or further afield if wanted.