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My best autumn trees for small gardens – The Middle-Sized Garden

    My best autumn trees for small gardens - The Middle-Sized Garden

    November 25th, 2018
    Posted In: Garden style & living, Middlesized country, Town gardens

    Autumn trees are the stars in my November garden. My top five trees are:

    1. Smokebush (Cotinus coggyria
    2. Crab apple trees (eng. Malus ‘Gorgeous’)
    3. Heritage fruit trees such as quince and medlar
    4. Silver birch ‘Jacquemontii’
    5. Maples (Acer – if they grow well in your soil)

    If I didn’t have trees, there would be much less color in my garden at the end of summer. And trees improve air quality and support wildlife. Their height gives a smaller garden presence and proportion.

    So I thought I’d round up my favorite autumn trees, in order to help you choose. All these trees are naturally quite small, except for the silver birch. But you can grow larger trees in small gardens by keeping them pruned or trained. Find out more in this post on trees for small gardens.

    Maples, of course, are autumn’s prima ballerinas, but they do not do well in my garden. So here are the alternatives:

    The shrub that grows into an autumn tree

    Cotinus coggyria ‘Grace’ is more often grown as a shrub. But it is outstanding when grown into a tree in both summer and in the autumn. ‘Grace’ is less well known than ‘Royal Purple’, and it’s larger, but still reasonably small for a tree. (note: links to Amazon are affiliated, which means I may get a small fee if you buy through them, but it won’t affect the price you pay.)

    Autumn trees for small gardens

    The star of the show this November has been Cotinus coggyria ‘Grace’, one of the largest cotinus varieties. Most people grow cotinus as a shrub, but this has grown to over 20ft high and is stunning both in the summer and autumn.

    Cotinus coggyria 'Grace.'

    Another view of the Cotinus ‘Grace’. The white bark is from a silver birch.

    Crab apple trees

    Crab apples for autumn and winter color

    I think this crab apple is Malus ‘Gorgeous’. It holds its fruits well throughout the winter.

    Crab apple trees are usually compact (but not always – do check!). They offer pretty blossom in spring and fruit in autumn and winter. When choosing a crab apple, look for one that ‘holds its fruit well.’ This crab apple of mine still has fruit in February so it looks beautiful in frost.

    Malus ‘Gorgeous’ holds its fruit well – I think that’s my variety, but I’ve also seen it looking good in other gardens.

    Choose a crab apple that holds its fruit

    This photo was taken at the end of January or beginning of February so this tree has really earned its place in my garden.

    Heritage fruit trees for autumn fruit and color

    There’s something very satisfying about helping to keep a species from dying out. Although fifteen, which is my next recommendation, is fast becoming fashionable. It has beautiful white blossom in spring, and then fragrant fruits in autumn. They look like a cross between a pear and an apple.

    Heritage trees for autumn color

    Fifteen fruits in November. I’m fairly sure that this is ‘Vranja’…

    Even if you can’t face wrangling the fruits to make ‘quince cheese’ or quince, a bowl of quince will perfume a room for several weeks.

    Fifteen trees for small gardens

    Shaping this tree has been a bit of a struggle, but I love it now. I think it’s worth checking a young tree for shape when you choose it.

    Other heritage fruit trees include damson and medlar. We did have a damson, but it didn’t do well and wasn’t a particularly good shape. It’s from the plum family and they can be very fussy.

    Which trees have the best autumn bark?

    We have several silver birch (‘Jacquemontii’) in the garden. They do grow quite tall but they are wonderful trees because their pale bark is a focus point, especially in autumn and winter.

    Silver birch is a striking tree

    The silver birch you can see has just dropped all its golden leaves. Personally I find fallen leaves very beautiful, but I suppose I will have to get them off the lawn somehow.

    Silver birches work well in smaller gardens because they can be pruned to be airy and light. Their roots are not very invasive. Multi-stemmed silver birches are currently beloved of Chelsea Flower Show garden designers, and they are also likely to be less tall.

    Silver birch underplanted with Cornus 'Midwinter Fire'.

    Just a beautiful autumn tree. The Cotinus is in the background and the yellow leaf underneath is Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’. Soon the cornus will be bare, showing off its bright orange stems. It grows very happily under the silver birch.

    I wash my silver birches. (See how in the video). Since I started doing this I have had a lot of compliments – people really do say ‘what silver birch is that – it’s wonderfully white.’ When I say I wash them, they fall apart laughing.

    Silver birches may seem large for smaller gardens, but there is a garden near me that is around 45ft long and wide. It has three beautiful mature silver birches at the end. The lightness of the bark stops them being oppressive.

    So what’s your favorite small (ish) tree for autumn colour?

    The most beautiful autumn garden tree

    A friend described Acer griseum as ‘the most beautiful garden tree’. It is absolutely stunning in autumn, but I have now had three acers die in this garden so I don’t think they’re an option for me.

    But take a quick glance at this stunning autumn tree color here:

    The best autumn trees for stunning color

    From top to bottom: Smokebush (Cotinus coggyria ‘Grace’), Silver birch ‘Jacquemontii and Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)

    Take a trip round the Middlesized Garden

    There’s a fuller tour of the garden here in this video. If you want the super-quick tour to music, that starts at exactly two minutes in.

    More about autumn trees:

    Find out which tree is absolutely perfect for your garden. Or try Alan Titchmarsh’s How to Garden: Small Trees, where he guides you through the selection and planning of trees for small gardens. Plus how to look after them.

    It’s also essential to plant your tree correctly. If a tree fails, it’s usually because it’s been planted wrong. See this post for expert how to plant a tree advice.

    See here for more about trees for garden privacy, or watch the video on how to position trees for privacy.

    And do join us for more garden tips, ideas and inspiration – get the Middlesized Garden into your inbox every Sunday (see ‘Follow by email’ top right of this page)

    Pin for reference:

    Best autumn trees for small gardens

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