The Irish yew tree is commonly found in old graveyards - its long life symbolises immortality
Last week was National Tree Week. People are asked to make a renewed effort to go out and plant more trees. During the week I visited Curraghchase where they have planted thousands of Irish yew tree each tree week for the last few years.
One of the oldest yews in the country is growing there. The Irish yew, Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ is a slow growing tree that is commonly found in old graveyards. The tree is long lived so it symbolises immortality. The leaves and fruit are poisonous.
Whatever the size of your garden, you don’t need thousands, try to include at least one tree. A tree will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and reverse the greenhouse effect. A tree will bring structure, height and texture to any space, even in the depths of winter. Chosen carefully, a tree will have something good to offer for more than one season, perhaps a combination of pretty flowers in spring and good autumn colour. Avoid greedy brutes like sycamore, willows and populars that can wreck drains and foundations. There are many trees available that will add to a small garden and offer many years of pleasure.
Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are available in a wide range of different leaf shapes and colours. They all look great but need a sheltered site and many of them produce fantastic autumn colours.
Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) is a slow growing evergreen tree that responds well to pruning. It likes a well-drained soil, dry soil. It produces clusters of tiny, white or slightly pink flowers followed by attractive strawberry-like edible fruit.
Magnolia stellata is a small magnolia growing very slowly to a rounded bush, 10 feet tall, when mature. This magnolia produces pure white, star shaped flowers, slightly perfumed, in spring, before the leaves appear, eventually covering a mature plant for several weeks with white flowers. Frost can damage the open flowers if they are exposed to morning sunshine. A position with early shade in the morning and sun later in the day is the ideal position for this plant. After the flower the plant is covered with an oval shaped green leaf that turns yellow in the autumn. This magnolia will tolerate some lime in the soil.
Crinodendron hookerianum is another small tree from Chile. The tree is evergreen with bell or lantern-shaped flowers in May and June.
The plant likes a fertile, moist but well-drained, humus rich acid soil in full sun or partial shade. Shelter the plant from cold, drying winds. Young growth and flower buds can be damaged by hard frost. The plant can be pruned after flowering to remove dead or damaged growth. There are only two species of crinodendron, crinodendron hookerianum produces red flowers while crinodendron patagua produces white flowers in late summer and prefers drier conditions.
Ilex (Holly) is one of our most beautiful native trees, with its waxy, variably shaped leaves offering year-round colour and interest. The flowers are insignificant and are followed by bright red berries on the female plants in winter. A male plant must be present in the garden or nearby to produce berries. Variegated hollies need full sun to produce the best leaf colour. Free-standing specimens can be pruned to shape, start the pruning in the early years after planting. There are a number of varieties to choose from.
Pick a small tree or choose one that can be pruned regularly to control its size. A tree can be used to divide one section of the garden from another or conceal part of the garden from the house. Buy a tree with a good strong leading shoot, a tree with more than one leader should be ignored as it will not grow to form a good trunk and head. Give your tree a good start in life by digging a wide hole, two to three times as wide as the diameter of the pot it is growing in. Mix well-rotted manure or garden compost into the soil. Plant the tree at the same level as the pot it is growing in, planting too deeply may cause the tree to die. In its first few years keep the tree well watered and weed free around its base.