We often hear how trees contribute to the health of our planet and its climate. Frequently the discussion focuses on forests, their destruction, protection and creation. However, we can all make a difference by planting trees in our own garden.
There is a wealth of research on how trees improve the urban environment. They provide shade, help manage our city temperatures and some species will reduce noise or pollution. On a global level it is their ability to absorb and store carbon as they grow.
But are some trees greater carbon stores than others? Barcham Trees now publish eco tree tags for all the trees they sell. Using research commissioned from Treeconomics and based on the familiar format used for rating the energy efficiency of appliances, each tree gets a rating from A to E. Fascinatingly they also tell us the rate at which the carbon is stored across the tree's lifespan and the point at which it offsets the carbon produced to grow, deliver and plant it.
Nervously, I thought I would look at the rating for some of my favourite trees which I often use in my planting designs. How would they score and would I need to rethink some of my choices? Luckily many, reflecting their similar garden-friendly dimensions, score a respectable C but the amount does vary from species to species. One of my favourites, the winter flowering cherry (Prunus "Autumnalis") will absorb 685kg of carbon across its lifetime, almost 30% higher than another go-to tree Amelanchier "Ballerina" at just 530kg. Both fall within Group C, but Autumnalis will offset its carbon footprint after just 12 months, whilst Ballerina takes a full three years.
As a simple rule of thumb, the larger the tree the more carbon it will store. Does this mean we should all be planting big trees such as the chart-topping Eucalyptus gunii, scoring A and storing an impressive 7,570kg? Well. as always, the answer depends on the space you have available. If it's for your average urban garden then the answer is no. Barcham points out that a tree needs to grow well and to its full size if it's to store the maximum amount of carbon. Another reason to make sure that your chosen tree is suitable for the conditions and space available.
I still feel comfortable with my favourites, but I have decided to bear in mind how a tree scores when including them in my designs. If I can achieve the desired effect with different trees, then their relative carbon scores will be a useful deciding factor.
For more information on their eco tree tags and how they were developed click here.
January with its short, cold days can be gloomy at the best of times and even more so now we are entering another lockdown. Gardens can seem drab and lifeless and yet there are many beautiful plants which will add colour and interest throughout the winter.
One of my favourites is the winter flowering cherry. There are two varieties; Prunus x subhirtella "Autumnalis" with white blossom and "Autumnalis Rosea" which is a delicate shell-pink. They will tolerate most soils as long as they are not waterlogged and any aspect. Growing around 6m tall, with a relatively light canopy and pollution tolerant they are a perfect choice for city gardens.
At a time when most trees are bare, their branches tantalise with a generous sprinkling of tight buds which gradually open to delicate flowers. Initial flurries of blossom appear in late November and will carry on right through to March. They don't produce any fruit but do have good Autumn colours, soft shades of orange-yellow.
Having fallen in love with our first tree, we now have three "Autumnalis Rosea" in our garden and all are currently full of blossom. In Spring I prefer the purity and freshness of white blossom but the pink seems more cheerful at this time of year and stands out well against grey winter skies.
In mid-May, I spent an enjoyable day visiting the Dorothy Clive Garden in Wiloughbridge, Staffordshire. Set on a hillside the 12 acres of garden are well worth a visit and will provide a leisurely work-out as you meander up and down the hillside exploring the pathways. Run by a charitable trust the gardens aims are to maintain and develop the gardens in the memory of the late Dorothy Clive and to promote horticultural education.
The original gardens were developed by Dorothy's husband to provide her with somewhere interesting and beautiful to walk: walking and exercise were the 1940s prescription for Parkinson sufferers.
There are many more areas to explore including a waterfall, pool, gravel garden and two new developments include an edible forest garden and winter garden. Anyone fancy Shuttlecock fern shoots and Dahlia tuber mash for supper? Both areas are on my list for a re-visit later in the year.
Although the garden is large, it has lots of smaller areas and is full of ideas to take home. It shows just how important it is to create surprise and a sense of journey within a garden - whatever the size. Meandering paths and strategic placing of shrubs leads you on to explore and prevents you seeing everything in one quick glance. A lot of the paths are generous, wide swathes of grass - we often forget that grass can be used this way and doesn't always have to be the traditional lawn.
The final praise must go to the tea room which serves scones to die for- freshly baked and delicious. This has to be the perfect destination for National Cream Tea Day (yes there really is one) on the 26th June- yum yum....
The highlights in spring include an amazing array of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias in every colour available. They all sit within the woodland garden, created within an old quarry and with its own gentle micro-climate thanks to the canopy of mature trees. These shrubs are not my favourites for small domestic gardens, as to me they seem dull and 'heavy' for the majority of the year but even I had to admit that the blaze of colour was fabulous. They really come into their own in a large garden and the woodland setting provides them with the perfect backdrop. I did fall in love with this delicious Magnolia 'Lemon Drop'.
We were given an excellent guided tour of the garden highlights by knowledgeable gardener Zdenek Valkoun-Walker, who also looks after the bee hives in the gardens orchard. Zdenek is in charge of the beautiful seasonal borders and garden areas which tumble down the hillside. Although the tulips were beginning to turn they still provided a colourful display hovering above a forget-me-not sea. This type of bedding scheme would be very labour intensive at home but incorporating some later flowering perennials to take over after the spring flowers have finished would prolong the display. Forget-me-nots will seed quite happily everywhere, so make sure you really do like them before you bring them into your garden.
Another seasonal highlight is the Laburnum Arch, which was just starting to come into flower when we visited. This is a great way to grow this cheerful tree and it will provide you with a stunning display each spring. The seed pods are poisonous but then so are many other plants so don't cross it off your plant list too hastily. The arch is underplanted with box balls which create a sense of rhythm and draw the eye along the path. Intermingled are alliums, about to burst into flower and contrast beautifully with the sunshine yellow of the Laburnums. On our visit there were just hints of yellow and the arch created a cool, green retreat on a very sunny day.
Fancy a hit of chocolate without the calories? Cosmos atrosanguineus is a beautiful perennial with velvet maroon petals held above pretty foliage and a mouth-watering scent combination of vanilla and chocolate. It's quite tender so tricky to over-winter, but worth indulging in a plant or two near a favourite seat. The cultivar 'Chocomocha' is said to be particularly chocolate-y, definitely one on the shopping list for my balcony this year.
Photo by pemberlolly via Flikr
A pretty climber with the wonderful combination of chocolate flowers and spicy vanilla scent is Akebia quinata or Chocolate Vine. Semi-evergreen it has fragrant spring flowers sometimes followed by strange purple fruits. The waxy leaves will fall in cold winters but take on a purplish tint as the weather cools. Despite its exotic appearance it's quite hardy and will tolerate some shade.
If chocolate is not for you, how about the irresistibly named Iris 'Butter and Sugar'. It looks as delicious as it sounds and I am looking forward to seeing it in flower in one of my clients' gardens. It is quite happy in moist or boggy soil and we have used it near a pond which sometimes floods. Photo by noramunro via Flikr
One personal favourites is Jasminum officinale 'Clotted Cream'. It has abundant creamy flowers with a rich scent and is perfect near a path or seat. Although said to prefer full sun, I had one which flowered profusely on an east-facing fence despite been overshadowed by mature trees. It can cope with dry soil and so a good choice for containers.
Although a big fan of chocolate Easter eggs, I've been looking for some alternative Easter treats which will amuse my friends and be guilt-free. Luckily I have found lots of inspiration and enjoyed myself browsing through my plant books and the internet. Below are a few of my current favourites.
For friends with a savoury palate or appreciating a more traditional Easter link a packet of Poached Egg plant seeds (Limnanthes douglasii) is ideal. Scatter the seeds where you want them to grow and you will have a cheerful carpet of flowers all summer. It will also attract hoverflies who will hoover up your aphids, so a good choice for your vegetable patch.
Photo by anyjazz65 via Flikr
Finally a suggestion that is edible , Mentha x piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate' or more simply Chocolate Mint. It has lovely dark stems and a purple flush to the leaves. Bees and other pollinators will love the typical mauve flowers and the leaves are delicious. Reminiscent of After Eights when crushed they make a lovely addition to salads, puddings or summer cocktails. Like all mints it prefers the sun and is best in a container as it will spread.
There are many more plants with delicious names so you can tailor your gift (or personal treat) accordingly and have some fun in the process. Off now to finish my Easter shopping, I wonder if I can find something suitable for a liquorice fiend?
All photos used under Creative Commons Attribution licence