Ellen’s top 5 trees

With over 450 and varieties to choose from you would think that I would easily be able to pick my 5 favourites, but I tell you it is actually really tough when it comes to it. There are so many trees that I love and they all offer different qualities and characters that make them perfect for a given situation, with trees, one size certainly does not fit all and there are just so many great specimens to chose from its toughie to know where to start! So here goes..


Betula albosinensis Fascination

This has to be top of my list, and I am often caught quoting this as being my favourite tree to customers and colleagues alike; and do you know what I really think it is! It is often over looked for the more fashionable Betula utilis Jacquemontii, which for me is just a little stark and cold looking compared to this beautiful Birch.

The Chinese Red Birch just sucks me right in time after time, it has a cinnamon coloured bark when it is young, peeling to a creamy colour as it matures, that simply glistens and gives an iridescent sheen. The leaves are larger and more of a mid green than Jacquemontii, covering the crown more fully, making it useful for screening. Most of all the attraction for me towards this tree is the elegant flame shaped (pyramidal) crown that this tree maintains from a young age through to maturity; giving balance, uniformity and architectural shape to a planting scheme. A simply stunning tree that is versatile enough for urban planting, compact enough for garden planting, robust enough for avenue planting and pretty enough for arboretum planting; truly, what more can you ask for in a tree??!

Like Jules I was devastated when the gorgeous specimen in our car park was laid to rest, the less we say about that the better…. What can I say; progress, you sometimes have to make way don’t you!

Pyrus calleryana Chanticleer

Now, there are plenty of people out there who feel that this tree has been somewhat over planted in urban environments, giving it a bad reputation as being a little over-done. To you haters out there, you go on hating! For me, this tree is a superb example of a tree that works hard to literally give you everything it can!

The perfect screening tree; the Ornamental Pear is the first tree into leaf in the spring and the last tree to lose its leaves in the autumn. It has a pretty spring flower and red autumn colour, often holding on to full leaf until the end of November, and partial leaf into mid December, returning into flower/leaf by mid March. It is essentially a deciduous tree, with partially evergreen properties, and a distinctly deciduous tree price tag (evergreens can be around three times more expensive than deciduous trees of the same size).

A great garden tree; it has year round interest and is easy to look after.

An attractive avenue tree; it has reliable uniformity to its crown as it matures, growing in a lovely flame shape that compliments its list of ornamental qualities.

A tough contender; Pyrus calleryana Chanticleer will thrive in a wide range of both soil and environmental conditions. Thriving just about anywhere other than coastal or water logged conditions!

So, how can anyone run this tree down, it is simply great. Pretty, reliable and useful; qualities I think it is hard to disagree are perfectly desirable, not just when selecting trees!

Malus Rudolph

Just a lovely Crab Apple! For me, Malus Rudolph is a simply perfect flowering garden tree. It does not grow too large, produces bright, profuse, cerise pink flowers in the spring, followed by a flush of red foliage afterwards that hardens to green throughout the summer. In the autumn the Crab Apples this delightful little tree produces are small, red and plentiful, giving it autumn interest without the danger the fruits will become a nuisance! It is my belief that Crab Apples tend to get bundled into the “Blossom tree” bracket and often people do not appreciate that they are extremely different to the Flowering Japanese Cherry family Prunus.

There is no doubt that Prunus are lovely flowering trees, however for me they are out performed by the more reliable Malus genus, which will not only give a beautiful floral display, but also Crab apples and be tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, including heavy clay. Cherries on the other hand are a little more delicate, so you need to be mindful to not plant them if there is any chance of them getting their “feet” wet, they will not like that at all!

The other appealing quality of Crab Apples is that they tend to flower quite late in the spring, meaning they retain their flower for a little longer than some flowering trees, owing to the fact they are not subjected to such poor weather conditions as earlier in the spring! If I am truthful many of the other Malus varieties appeal to me too, however Rudolph is certainly my favourite, and Malus is definitely in my top 5 trees, whether it be Rudolph, Evereste, Mokum, John Downie or Profusion!

Liquidambar styraciflua Worplesdon

For sure this stunning tree gives the finest autumn colour in the land, it is just great!

Often Sweet Gum get confused with Maples, as they have a similar sized, trident shaped leaf which is understandably quite comparable to Acers.

Liquidambar have a lovely vivid green summer foliage throughout the summer time which persists on the trees until early autumn.  They are actually quite a late tree to start to turn for autumn and when they do, goodness me you are in for a treat!

This particular variety reminds me of a “Fab” lolly from back in the day, slowly turning so that the tips become a deep burgundy/claret colour, with the rest of the colours gradually fading through to brighter reds, oranges and yellow at the bottom.

As a mature tree, this is quite large, so please only select for your garden or landscaping project if you have plenty of space, else you might find that it starts to overtake the area in years to come!  There are some varieties of Liquidambar which have smaller eventual heights and whilst their general characteristics of foliage and bark remain similar, you will find some variation in the always stunning autumn colour.

Liriodendron tulipifera

This is in my top 5 simply because it is the first tree that made me appreciate quite how beautiful trees could be and indeed how much interest they offer to the landscape.  When I started at Barcham in 2005 I had very little knowledge of trees and set about to learn the Barcham catalogue (there was no Time for Trees back then to help!) from front to back.  I really didnt realise the breadth of beauty that trees have to offer and how exquisite their foliage and flowers can actually be, if you look for them! It was Liriodendron tulipifera that made me start to look for this detail in trees, both on the nursery and in the wider landscape.

This tree reaches large heights and works well in parklands and large estates, the foliage is bright and interesting, yet essentially it does well to blend in with other parkland trees, until you look harder.   I noticed a single yellowy green flower on one of these trees and was captivated by the notion a tree could produce something so stunning.  This feeling was consolidated for me with a trip to Euro Disney that year and the entrance to the park was literally awash with mature Liriodendron in full flower, they were simply stunning! Ever since that trip, and coupled with my deepening interest in learning about trees, I now look for this detail in trees wherever I go and at all times of year.  Whatever the weather or season, trees have much beauty to offer us and once the world of trees is opened up to you, visits around cities, towns, the countryside and indeed around the globe become more interesting; the more you look the more you will find.  I no longer take the trees in the environment for granted and very much feel I have Liriodendron tulipifera to thank for this.


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