Delicate tree toughs it out

Leaves of the Amelanchier

Leaves of the Amelanchier

First published in Gardening

GINA PARKINSON highlights a favourite tree which is always a ‘good doer’

Autumn is almost at its end. The avenue of trees that line our road have all but dropped their leaves and are beginning to take on their wintry shape.

It is the same story in the garden, with the lawn and paths littered with damp foliage and bare branches greeting the viewer.

Amelanchier is a favourite small tree of mine, a deceptively delicate-looking specimen with dark twiggy branches that is in fact quite a tough plant.

It is a ‘good doer’, coping with a range of sites and soil conditions and, as well as being useful as a small tree, can also be used as hedging.

The year for this plant ends in November, when the leaves turn from green to yellow and red and look wonderful for a few short weeks.

A strong autumn wind soon shakes them from their branches but for a time they give a splash of colour in the garden.

It isn’t all sadness as deciduous plants go into their winter slumber since many are already showing signs of new life.

As the Alemanchier drops its foliage, the thin branches are revealed to be carrying tightly closed, pointed buds at the end of each stem. These will stay on the tree all winter, the shiny shell protecting the flowers that lie beneath.

As winter progresses into spring and the days warm up and lengthen, the buds will swell and eventually split open.

By May the tree will be covered in a mass of dainty white flowers that can be seen from quite a distance.

This is a great tree to grow in a small space. Previously, we had one in the typically tiny front garden of terraced house which could be seen at the end of the road when it was in bloom in spring.

In our present garden, instead of a specimen tree, there is one growing among other trees where it nestles, coming to the fore in spring and again in autumn, fading into the woodland background for the rest of the year.

Another adaptable plant with good autumn colour is the climbing hydrangea or Hydrangea petiolaris.

Like many members of this family, this hydrangea likes a shady spot and is very happy in a shady north-facing wall.

This makes it an excellent choice to cover an unsightly garage wall for instance, in a spot where other plants may struggle. At the end of the summer, the large leaves begin to turn from mid green to yellow and by the end of October and early November the plant is a mass of buttery gorgeousness.

The leaves will stay on the plant for quite a while then suddenly fall to its feet leaving behind a network of gnarled and peeling branches and stems that carry the dried flowerheads left from it late spring blooming.

The skeleton of branches that cover the wall holds a memory of what this plant is like at its height as spring turns to summer.

Then it is covered in fresh green foliage and large perfumed white blooms that are covered in nectar seeking insects.

It is a glorious sight and an established specimen will cover a large expanse of wall. Unlike the alemanchier which requires only the minimum amount of pruning, a mature climbing hydrangea will need some serious attention every few years.

A young plant will take a number of years to establish and during the first few of these may look to be doing nothing at all.

Patience is required as well as regular soaking and annual feeding and mulching. The new stems will need to be encouraged on to the wall where they will eventually become self clinging.

It is at this point the plant will become the climber it is meant to be and before long will be happily growing up and sending out new shoots. Wayward stems will need to be kept away from window frames and gutters and the oldest branches pruned back every now and again to encourage new growth.

This cutting back needs to be done immediately after flowering to leave the plant enough time to produce the flowering stems that will carry its blooms the following year.

Weekend catch-up

There is still time to plant herbaceous perennials and deciduous shrubs while the soil is relatively warm.

Choose a mild day when the soil is frost free and not too wet and pop the plants in.

They will establish their root system over the next few weeks before becoming dormant. It isn’t necessary to feed them at this point, the fertiliser will get washed away in the winter but it is always a good idea to improve soil with a good amount of garden compost or leaf mould when possible. Just mix a few spadefuls of the stuff in with the soil before filling in around the new plant.

Then water in and leave to settle. Newly planted shrubs and trees may need firming in after frost or strong winds that can dislodge them if the roots haven’t yet got down enough to keep them sturdy.

Gardening talk

Ben Potterton will give an illustrated talk entitled Colour in the Winter Woodland Garden on Tuesday at Askham Bryan College.

Organised by Askham Bryan College (ABC) Gardening Club, the talk will begin at 7.30pm in the Conference Hall.

Ben is the owner of Blacksmiths Cottage Nursery and Garden near Dickleburgh in Norfolk as well as being the Operations Manager of Twycross Zoo in Warwickshire.

Tickets to the talk are free to ABC Gardening Club members and £5 on the door for non members.

Gardening TV and Radio

Tomorrow

8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Eric Robson chairs the programme which this week comes from Melrose in the Scottish Borders.

(Repeated from Friday).

Friday

3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chris Beardshaw, Pippa Greenwood, Bunny Guinness and chairman Eric Robson answer question from visitors to the Durham Wildlife Trust.

Also Matthew Wilson learns how to create a historical garden and Bunny Guinness looks at drying flowers.

(Repeated on Sunday at 2pm).

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