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Home and Gardens

Published on November 9th, 2012 | by Angela Boobbyer


Fork It

Recently I received a £100 gardening voucher and the donor suggested that I spend it on something special, like a tree. A specimen tree is about making a statement and, depending on its cost, can be something of an investment. You need to consider where to put it, what you want to achieve and, of course, which type to buy! 

The site is important as the tree has to fit in with what is already there – e.g. will it be overshadowed by existing trees and buildings and fail to thrive? Or will it romp away and crowd out everything else? It will grow not just upwards but outwards as well, and over the years its shade could render the garden underneath it impossible to cultivate. And don’t forget that it will also grow downwards and will produce roots that could damage house foundations or drainage systems. So, when choosing a tree, find out all its potential dimensions when full-grown – height, depth and width. As a general rule of thumb, the root system will be about as wide as the leaf canopy, but check with your nursery. 

The next thing to consider is what you want to achieve. Do you want to call attention to a great view, or to hide a not-so-great view? Will it fit in with a theme, e.g. a Japanese acer in a simple Japanese-style garden of gravel and minimal planting? Try to think of the long-term implications however. For years I used to drive past a bungalow which was dwarfed by a huge Monkey puzzle tree. I can see that its geometrical shape might have had a certain whimsy when it was planted as a specimen in their front lawn years ago, but when it reached maturity it just looked ridiculous! 

The final question is which type of tree to buy and for this the most basic decision is deciduous or evergreen. If you choose the former, you will have to clear up the leaves every autumn. If you choose the latter, might it become a nuisance by cutting out the light? What about the colour of the foliage – do you want the tree to stand out or to blend in? Do you want showy flowers – e.g. lilac or laburnum – but are prepared for the fact that the tree will be uninteresting for 11 months of the year? Come up with a list of criteria and a good plant nursery will be able to advise you. 

So which tree am I going to get? I was visiting a school this week and they were planting an elm sapling, as part of the Great British Elm Experiment. About 25 million elms in the UKhave been killed by Dutch Elm Disease (DED) since the late 1960’s and the purpose of this experiment is to check the progress of these saplings – believed to be resistant to DED – over a period of 20 years. Schools can get a sapling free, but individuals have to pay a small charge. See www.conservationfoundation.co.uk for details. I also want to get a mulberry tree, because the berries are delicious and the tree very attractive. I know that I shall have to wait several years before I can enjoy the fruit, but gardeners have lots of patience!

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