A beautiful tree adds such a lot to a garden whatever its size. Whenever you start thinking about what to choose, bear in mind where it is to be planted and how tall it will ultimately grow, these are two critical factors. The other thing to consider is, that if this is to be the only tree in your garden or just one of a few then it needs to work hard and earn its place.

Acer palmatum

Three Seasons of Interest

I always look for 3 seasons of interest when I’m picking a tree for a garden. It might be the texture or colour of the bark which appeals, or the changing of the leaf colour through the seasons. Whatever it is, make sure that it lasts for most of the year! The trees below are ones I love and often use. They don’t grow too tall and give you lots of colour and interest throughout the year which is why I’d recommend then for a small garden.


The Rowan tree is one of my favourites and I know I’m not alone as many of my client’s ask for them in their garden. It’s then just a case of picking the right one.

Sorbus vilmorinii is a cracker. White flowers during April and May that lead to pendulous red berries that fade to white as the season progresses and pretty olive –green feathery foliage that turns crimson in the autumn. It is a slow to medium growing tree that will eventually reach a height and spread of around 5 metres in 20 years. It likes full sun or dappled shade light conditions.

Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ is a fast growing tree that has lovely green leaves that turn fabulous shades of orange, purple and red in the autumn. White flowers appear in spring followed by yellow berries that birds love in the autumn. It can tolerate a wide range of soils and conditions which makes it such a valuable tree. Height can eventually reach 10m and spread 7m and it likes full sun or dappled shade too.

Acers – Another Big Favourite 

Acer ‘Senkaki’ a.k.a. ‘Sango-Kaku’ is one of the best Japanese Maples around. It is slow growing eventually reaching 6m in height with a spread of about 5m. This Acer has pink/green leaves in the spring which age to a mustardy yellow in the autumn. What is so spectacular about this tree are the coral pink shoots, branches and bark it develops in the winter. This is a true winter warmer! Be sure to give this beauty a slightly shaded sheltered spot out cold winds

Acer ‘Trompenberg’ is a fantastic tree that will grow into a rounded shape. The foliage is purple/red in the spring fading to green in summer and then turning to an orangey red colour in the autumn. If you have limited space this will be ideal for you only reaching a height and spread of 4m in 20 years. It will tolerate full sun but prefers some shade if it can get it.

Lovely Alternatives

Prunus ‘Snowgoose’ is a great Cherry to use when you don’t have a lot of space. It has more of an upright shape than many, so is perfect when you have a narrow garden space to fill. You can expect a height of 4m and a spread of 2m in 20 years so perfect for tight spaces. The beautiful bright green leaves in spring take on autumn tints of red and bronze in the autumn. It has large white single flowers in spring with attractive tasselled stamens and gives you everything you want from a cherry tree but for a small space.

Amelanchier ‘Ballerina’ has clusters of white, star shaped flowers sometimes blushed pink covering the tree in April. The foliage is a highly attractive bronze colour when it unfurls in spring before turning dark green and oval in the summer. The autumn display is beautiful with leaves turning a striking reddish – purple. Small red berries are produced which can be eaten and are loved by the birds. This is a tough tree which will grow in damp sites and is tolerant of pollution. You can expect it to grow to a height and spread of 4m in 20 years.



  1. I loved your article on Ornamental Trees for small / medium sized gardens. I read with interest as I am currently struggling to decide on which tree to have , Sorbus Vilmorini or Amelanchier Grandiflora Ballerina. We have a Sorbus at the other side of our garden which I love.
    I am a novice but keen gardener but have some concern that the Ballerina will need work to keep it as a standard tree rather than shrub which may be beyond my skill level. Do you have any suggestions for the undecided gardener?

    1. Thanks very much for your comment on my blog, I’m glad you found it useful. I completely understand your concern about the pruning that may be required to keep a ‘Ballerina’ as a standard tree. It does take some pruning to do this, as left to manage on its own it will revert to being more of a shrub. If you are looking for more of a ‘natural’ standard tree and you like Amelanchier, why don’t you consider Amelanchier ‘Robin Hill’? The main differences are the colour of the flowers while in bud (a delicate pink) and its regular branching resulting in a neat, broadly conical shape which is about 7m in height. Hope this helps in your decision making.

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