No garden is too small for a tree. OK, a horse chestnut on your balcony may not be everyone’s idea of a good choice - though I’ve seen it done - but there’s a wide and varied range of small flowering trees suitable for small spaces.
Choosing the appropriate varieties of ornamental trees for small gardens is crucial – some flowering cherries are much more suitable than others, for example. You don’t want to be faced with heaving out a beautiful tree because you can hardly get out of the door, so start by considering these varied choices that have been accoladed with the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
In addition to ornamental trees, edible and culinary apple trees can be grown in tight spaces: look for those grafted on to M27 rootstocks which will keep them small and encourage early fruiting.
This choice of 10 are all winners of the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) - an independent assurance that the varieties are reliable, good for normal garden use and widely available.
Numbers at the end of each entry refer to plant height and RHS hardiness rating.
Dainty yellow pompoms
There’s a plant of the golden wattle, Acacia baileyana in the corner of a school playground that I see quite often, and in late winter and spring it lights up the space from the other end of the street. The slightly silvery grey, evergreen leaves are delicately divided and make a lovely background to the fluffy flower clusters gathered in arching sprays. Trim off the lower branches to create a tree habit. Not completely hardy, but worth a try in mild areas. 4m. H3.
White flowers, black berries
Amelanchier lamarckii or juneberry is a well-branched bushy little tree that’s a little reminiscent of a flowering cherry or crab. Pure white flowers open in spring among the coppery young foliage, creating a blizzard of early bloom. They are followed later by berries which are always appreciated by birds. And finally there’s fiery autumn leaf colour. Three different seasons of interest from one fine small garden tree. 5m. H7.
A small evergreen tree with flowers like lily-of-the-valley and fruits like strawberries sounds too good to be true but Arbutus × andrachnoides has more than that.
Its peeling cinnamon-red bark is an all year feature and, unlike most members of the heather family, it’s happy growing in limy soil.
Allow it to develop its natural shape without pruning and to show off that lovely bark. 5m. H4.
Named for the influential nurseryman, Cornus kousa 'John Slocock' is an unusually upright form of the Japanese dogwood, its vertical branches creating a tree that fits nicely into a small space. The bold white bracts, opening in June, are veined in green and develop rosy tints as they mature with bright red fruits like strawberries (again!) forming later. Autumn leaf tones in deep red and bronze are also a feature. Not happy on shallow chalky soils. 4m. H5.
Super garden hawthorn
We always think of hawthorns as hedgerow trees, with large pink double-flowered varieties sometimes turning up in cottage gardens. Crataegus persimilis ‘Prunifolia’ is a definite step up in its ornamental qualities with more compact growth, darker and glossier foliage, and bright white flowers sparked by pink anthers. The flowers are followed by exceptionally persistent crimson fruits and fine autumn leaf colour. 5m. H7.
Crab apple for containers
Looking for a tree for your balcony? Malus 'Evereste' is an exceptional crab apple with snowy 5cm white spring flowers opening from red buds to give an attractive contrast. Later, the 2.5cm orange-flushed yellow fruits develop creating a whole new look. Happy in a large container, look for trees grafted on M27 rootstocks. Keep evenly moist and don't allow it to dry out. 2m. H6.
We often think of cherries as ideal small garden trees but many become uncomfortably large and cast quite deep shade. Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori' is a better choice in a number of ways. Firstly, its double rich pink flowers are richly scented and open in April right along with all your spring shade lovers planted underneath. Also, it’s naturally small and casts only light shade. 3m. H5.
The right willow
Weeping willow in a small garden? I’ve seen the disaster that can be but there are two or three attractive and genuinely small willow varieties that are well worth planting.
Salix purpurea ‘Pendula’ makes a lovely small weeping tree with purple stems that carry catkins before the leaves open in spring. It makes a lovely winter silhouette and a colourful spring show. 4m. H6.
Chinese mountain ash
Sorbus koehneana is a relatively uncommon relation of our native mountain ash with some appealing differences. It remains smaller, which is helpful, its leaves are smaller too but with more leaflets so the result is an altogether more feathery look. The flat white flower heads begin the display in April but are followed by small porcelain white berries on red stalks. Introduced from China over a hundred years ago. 4m. H6.
One the loveliest of small trees, but one of the less often seen, Styrax hemsleyanus is another that casts only light shade - ideal where you’d like to grow woodland perennials underneath - in spite of its large rounded foliage.
Its glory comes in June when the 15cm long strings of white flowers open, beautifully set off by bold leaves. It appreciates an open situation in good soil, with shelter. 4m. H5.