Thursday, 14 February 2008

mother nature gets it right again

Too many small gardens host trees that grow too big and then need ugly amputation. Finding the right tree for your garden is a difficult job. Finding a small native tree is even harder!

Our natives benefit from traditional British reserve. Their flowers are natural and beautiful. They are subtle and understated. Okay, we can grow trees that are full of strident flower that hang forever on the twigs like chewing gum on a shoe. It doesn't mean that our gardens should host them or that we should reward plant engineers by stuffing our gardens with their creations.

This delicate native crab apple (malus sylvestris) was photographed in precocious early flower this week at the RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk.

The crab is probably the best ornamental tree for the small garden. It can be pruned in August and so can keep a beautiful compact shape and never outgrow its position. The cultivar closest to the native is John Downey. Both native and cultivar have delicate white or light pink-and-white petals and yield small, bitter crab apples for autumn colour and interest.

Using our native species is important because they host many more native insects than their cultivated cousins. Our native crab is said to host 93 different insect species. That is a huge addition to the food chain in the garden benefitting birds, insects, bats and other mammals.

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