Even if you have a small garden, you should always try to make space for at least one or two trees. Their height, form and structure are just as important in a small, confined space as in a larger one.
—A narrow, columnar tree will provide height and structure but casts little shade. Upright, narrow conifers are good examples. Try the Italian cypress, Cupressus sempervirans (USDA Zones 7–9) for a tall, pencil-shaped column with upright branches of dark green foliage that ascend close to the trunk.
—A spreading tree with a light canopy, alternatively, casts dappled shade, changing the environment and enabling a different range of plants to grow.
—Small, compact, weeping trees, such as a weeping pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula,’ Zones 4–7), may be used as specimens or focal points. They are ideal where limited height and spread are essential.
Finding a tree that will earn its space
In a small garden, every plant has to earn its place if the garden is to have year-round interest. As there may be only one or two trees, they have to work hard. A tree that has glorious blossom for a week in spring and is ordinary for the rest of the year is not a good choice—no matter how found you are of the one-week blossom. Instead, choose one that has other features—perhaps interesting bark or good autumn color.
—Amelanchier lamarckii (Zones 4–8) is a popular small garden tree. The graceful branches carry copper-colored new leaves in spring at the same time as many heads of starry white flowers. In the fall, the small oval leaves color well.
—Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’ (Zones 3–8) has pink spring blossoms and purple foliage in summer and fall.
—Flowering dogwoods make excellent small trees for most gardens. Cornus florida f. rubra (Zones 5–9) is one of the finest, making a narrow, conical tree with superb pink blooms in early summer and rich autumn foliage. Click here to read more about this tree.
—The less vigorous crab apples are suitable for smaller gardens. Malus floribunda (Zones 4–8), the Japanese crab, is one of the loveliest. The long, graceful branches have a horizontal habit and are garlanded in spring with crimson buds that open to blush-pink and white fragrant flowers.
—Sorbus hupehensis var. obtuse ‘Pink Pagoda’ (Zones 6–8) is a broadly columnar, medium-sized tree that has blue-green leaves and long-lasting pink berries, which become paler as winter progresses.
—Robinia x slavinii ‘Hillieri’ (Zones 5–8) is a lovely compact, summer-flowering tree with pink wisterialike blooms and soft green foliage. It is a good choice for a small, sheltered garden and produces results quickly.
Adapted from the Horticulture Gardener's Guide to Planting with Trees by Andrew & Rosamond McIndoe. Learn more about this book.