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December: Two Trees for Winter

There are some trees that really stand out in the winter, on sunny days the intensely white bark of Betula utilis var jacquemonti, also known as Kashmir or West Himalayan Birch, can look stunning, particularly if you are mad enough to wash it down at the end of autumn. To be sure of good white colour, it is best to choose one of the selected forms such as 'Silver Shadow' or ‘Grayswood Ghost’. It is an exceptionally beautiful specimen tree, even more impressive when three or even five are planted together to make a small clump, and stands out against a foil of dark green woodland or evergreen hedging. In autumn the foliage is vivid yellow.

All birches prefer a sunny or very lightly shaded position, growing in fertile, well-drained soil. Fast-growing yet with an open canopy that casts at most dappled shade. If planted separately the maximum height is around 50 feet, slightly smaller if grouped together and the growth is light and quite upright, ideal for under planting with bulbs and spring flowering plants. A group can also look very effective set against a lawn.

For a very different winter impact Prunus serrula or Tibetan Cherry has mahogany-red, polished bark which peels attractively in horizontal papery strips. This characteristic develops quite early in the life of the tree.

P.serrula is one of the best trees for a small garden. In spring the flowers are small and white and it bears tiny fruits in autumn. The dark green leaves, which turn yellow/red in autumn, are narrow, serrated, willow-like and up to 10cm (4in) long. The name serrula means with small, saw-like teeth. These leaves give the tree a light, airy appearance, making it a suitable candidate for a situation where other plants must endure its shade. This is a small tree, only around 30 foot in height and 20 foot across, and will tolerate most conditions except very wet soil but will do better in an open sunny position. In a fairly formal setting a single specimen looked very effective under planted with the black lily grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ and snowdrops. This would be a good all year round combination.


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