Nothing lifts the soul more after a dreary winter than the first glimpse of blossom on the trees, like candyfloss clinging to the bare stems – nature’s own confetti. And there are so many trees to choose from that will provide blooms for spring. For some, the beauty lies in the foliage alone; for others, it’s delicate or striking flowers that are the stars of the show.
Here are a few suggestions for you to explore if you’d like to plant your own blossom tree. (Be aware that certain trees will require an acid soil.)
Grow your own white candyfloss-like blossom in the form of Amelanchier ‘Snowy Mespilus’, or Juneberry, which can be grown as a specimen tree (a traditional tree shape grown on a single stem) or as a multi-stemmed tree (where there are several branches growing from the base of the tree that will, in time, develop into trunks).
For a specimen tree, opt for ‘Robin Hill’, which grows to about 10m and has a nice oval shape and bright autumnal colour. For a multi-stemmed version, look for Amelanchier lamarckii, which flowers between March and April and produces edible black fruits in early summer (although I’ve never tried them). In the autumn, the leaves turn a vibrant red colour.
In late winter or early spring, make sure you remove any dead or crossing branches.
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Prunus, aka the flowering cherry, is a good all-year-round tree with spring flowers and good autumn colour. Some trees produce small fruits, much-needed for our small feathered friends in the autumn months.
Prunus ‘Kanzan’ is a double-flowering variety covered in blowsy pink blooms. This tree has a big spread, so it needs more room than other varieties.
For a white flowering tree with a weeping habit as it matures, try ‘Shirotae’, whose beautiful blossoms are followed by coppery coloured leaves.
Some varieties, such as Prunus serrula, also have a lovely mahogany bark. For growing in a container, try Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’.
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Magnolias are like huge jewels in the garden in spring. Big, goblet-shaped flowers in deep crimson, pink, pale pink, soft yellow or white open out into magnificent blooms.
For the smaller garden, choose Magnolia stellata, with its star-shaped white flowers, which usually reaches no more than 3m. Larger flowering varieties need more space, but look wonderful in lawns as specimen trees.
A couple of pointers, however: as it’s a shallow-rooted tree, make sure the roots can’t be disturbed where it’s planted and, in more mature trees, be aware that the roots can extend beyond the canopy, and the tree itself can grow up to 10m in height.
Other good varieties of Magnolia include a deep pink called ‘Susan’ and an even darker purple red called Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’.
Flowers on magnolias are susceptible to frost. The trees need to be well-watered in the summer months to prevent newly formed buds from dropping.
Malus is an ornamental crab apple; these trees are good all-rounders, with spring flowers and autumn colour. The examples in the garden pictured have been pleached – that is, trained onto canes. Malus also bear small fruits, which can be used for making crab apple jelly – if you can get them before the birds do!
Malus ‘Evereste’ is a white flowering tree with a wonderful display of orange crab apples that hold on well into December. The white flowers emerge from pink buds, and because it’s quite a compact tree, it grows to about 7m. Evereste can tolerate clay soils as long as it doesn’t get waterlogged.
For open and exposed sites, try Malus transitoria and, for real spring impact, you won’t go wrong with Malus ‘Rudolph’, with its cerise flowers, followed by red foliage, which hardens to a deep green.
This floral evergreen, also known as Drimys winteri, is a wonderful upright shrub that can be grown as a multi-stemmed tree if you remove the lower leaves on the stems. The abundant, sweetly scented flowers produced in May are heavenly, and can be wonderful planted near an entrance.
Plant Drimys winteri, which can grow up to 15m in height, in a sheltered position away from strong winds, in full sun to light shade, and make sure the plant doesn’t dry out. It will produce a red flush to the leaf and stem as an added bonus.
The wonderful Judas tree or Cercis Siliquastrum brings a burst of bright pink to the spring garden. In April to May, its prolific, pea-shaped flowers burst out of the stems and wood before heart-shaped leaves appear.
It’s a slow-growing tree, but it does get big and is best planted in a sunny aspect, where it should be sheltered from strong winds. There’s a pure white variety called ‘Alba’, as well as a violet/red one called ‘Bodnant’, which has a larger leaf. The leaves turn yellow in the autumn and clusters of reddish purple felt seedpods hang down from the branches.
The Judas tree dislikes being moved and therefore it makes a wonderful specimen tree. However, it can be brittle, so don’t hang a swing from its branches.
Acers are known for their striking autumnal colour, but they also produce lovely spring leaf interest. Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ produces bright orange lobed leaves, which turn to an orange-yellow flushed with a pink margin.
Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brilliantissimum’ is a great small specimen tree, which in spring produces a brilliant shade of shrimp pink-coloured leaves that unfurl before turning green in the summer. All acers need a sunny or partially shady position and to be protected from strong winds.
For an alternative tree with great spring leaf interest, look at the many varieties of sorbus. Sorbus thibetica ‘John Mitchell’ makes a good specimen tree. It has a compact habit and rounded leaves, which are covered in white hairs when young and mature to dark green with a white underside.
With its bright yellow flowers, the laburnum has no rivals as a show-stopper late in the spring.
Laburnum, also known as the golden chain tree, can be grown as a specimen or trained over arches so the long racemes of brilliant yellow flowers can look their best. Do be aware, when planting a laburnum, that all parts of the plant are toxic, in particular the seedpods produced after flowering, so avoid this tree if you have children or pets.
When planting the tree, choose a free-draining site and, if you decide to grow laburnums over an arch, they look wonderful underplanted with masses of alliums. The contrast of the purple and yellow is quite dazzling.
For a small garden or a pot, choose Laburnum alpinum ‘Pendulum’. For a specimen larger tree or to train over a pergola, try Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’.
These small to medium trees, often planted along streets, are typically the first to blossom.
Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’, or the ornamental plum, has lovely, single, blush-pink flowers, which open from deep pink buds and fade to white. These are followed by dark purple-brown foliage, which turns from a deep red to orange in the autumn.
This superb small tree is very tolerant of a wide range of conditions, but will thrive best in well-drained soil and full sun.
For a lovely small, spreading tree with elegant, long thin leaves, look for Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’. Ideal for a small garden, it’s often mistaken for an olive tree. It has a weeping habit and, in April to May, the long stems of silvery-grey, willow-like foliage are covered in tiny, creamy-white blossoms.
For a tree with a more conical habit and one that would be great for an avenue or as a specimen, choose Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’. This variety is much hardier and the glossy leaves turn a wonderful scarlet colour in the autumn. It’s often also used in urban streets and will grow up to 12m high.