Louise Tomlin welcomes spring into the garden and highlights some of her favourite flowering trees.
It’s difficult to imagine the arrival of spring being more welcome than this one is in 2021. Personally I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleased to see the daylight hours increasing. There’s a moment when you look up to an unbelievably blue sky and see the fresh blossom contrasting with it, it can’t help but fill you with hope.
Current thinking is that nature has the power to heal; indeed many an expert has informed us throughout the pandemic that we need to get out amongst the greenery to protect our physical and mental health. It’s not a new idea, many of us prior to recent times have recognised the therapeutic value of engaging with nature. There is science behind this thinking; trees release chemicals called phytoncides that can help reduce our blood pressure, anxiety and even pain. Forest bathing, a therapeutic trend that is gaining acceptance has its roots based on the positive effects of these phytoncides on the human immune system.
The Japanese celebrate Hanami, the blossom festival every year, they have picnic parties under the cherry trees. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Perhaps we could try a spot of Hanami in our local park, with the correct social distancing observed of course. If we haven’t got them already, maybe we could think about trying to bring more flowering trees into our own gardens? Aside from the feel good factor, it would be a very good thing from an environmental point of view. Trees are pollution busters; they consume carbon dioxide and help to reduce the damaging effects of the vast quantities of the fossil fuels we burn. Trees also give your garden structure, they provide shade, cool the environment via transpiration, and they create bio-diverse habitats for insects and other wildlife.
Combine this with the uplifting effect of looking outside and seeing a beautiful feature tree as the focal point of your garden. So I have some suggestions you might want to consider planting in your own plot. There are a couple of favourites, that you will probably be familiar with and then a couple out of left field, which you may not have heard of but that I think are worthy of attention.
Ornamental cherry trees (bottom left pic) are possibly the most popular blossom trees that people choose, achingly attractive with fluffy white through to pink single and double flowers. There’s a bewildering array of Prunus available, to give them their Latin name. They make ideal small garden trees, as they don’t grow too huge and many offer great autumn colour when the leaves turn. It’s important when planting any trees that you consider the size they might achieve, so always check the information from the supplier before you buy.
That warning definitely applies to my next choice, Magnolias (centre pic). There are varieties suitable for growing in pots in small spaces and some that will become big trees, with every size in between. Their splendid tulip or star shaped flowers range from white, pale to deep pinks verging on purple, some with exotic perfume. Late frosts can be their enemy so if you live in an area prone to this take note as the blooms can turn a nasty brown after frost damage.
The Strawberry tree or Arbutus (top pic) is one of the more uncommon trees that I only saw for the first time a couple of years ago. It’s an evergreen that has small white flowers, not in the spring but flowering in the autumn at the same time as the unusual red and yellow bobbly fruits are on the tree. They have distinctive bark that adds year-round appeal.
Tamarisk (bottom right pic) is the other unusual choice; it has wispy foliage that has a breathtaking profusion of frothy plumes of dense pink flowers from late spring to early summer. It’s stunningly beautiful, very hardy and great for coastal gardens, if you’re lucky enough to live near the sea.
A parting thought, I read somewhere recently that it takes nine trees to balance the average UK citizen’s carbon consumption per year…there’s some food for thought?